How to Translate ‘Spinglish’

The English language has been twisted and turned to a level of misdirection that is nearly impossible to cut through. So let us help.

Photo Illustration by Emil Lendof/The Daily Beast

Do you speak Spinglish? Well, if you speak English, chances are you’ve been using Spinglish for a long time, most likely without even knowing it. For example, have you ever overslept and missed a meeting and blamed your absence on a “scheduling error”? Tried to weasel out of a parking ticket because of an alleged “meter malfunction”? Explained that a bounced check was merely the result of an “unanticipated negative cash-balance accounting issue”?

Or, when you noticed that your hospital had billed you for a “disposable mucus recovery system,” did you figure out they were charging you 15 bucks for a box of Kleenex? Are you aware that whenever companies say “for your convenience,” they actually mean “for our convenience”?

If you answered yes to even one of these questions, you’re already on the road to mastering the devious vocabulary of verbal distortion, and with our indispensable bilingual dictionary as your guide, odds are you’ll soon be earning your B.S. in B.S.—or, better still, a coveted Spin Doctorate. And even if you’re a rank beginner, don’t despair: Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deceptive Language is virtually guaranteed to teach you how to succeed in business, politics—and everything else—without really lying!

But what precisely is Spinglish? Well, in spite of its polyglot-sounding name, it isn’t some foreign language. It’s just our native tongue, transformed into a sophisticated method of judicious miscommunication through the use of careful word choice and the artful rephrasing and reframing of familiar terms. To put it another way (which, of course, is what Spinglish is designed to do), it all comes down to making me sound better, or you sound worse, or both. I’m a freedom fighter, you’re a terrorist. I want to enhance revenues, you want to raise taxes. My product is artisanal, all-natural, and organic; yours is mass-produced, synthetic, and contains artificial additives.

Needless to say, any language can be used to convey or conceal all sorts of meanings and messages, but English is unique in its capacity for creative misdirection, thanks to a couple of remarkable linguistic resources. First, with over a million words, it has the largest vocabulary of any language in the world, and with more than a billion speakers, it is the most widely spoken.

And second, English basically consists of two completely separate and complementary sub-languages: Latin, from the Romans who conquered England and bequeathed us mostly polysyllabic (and often nicely evasive) formulations like “exterminate” and “circumlocution,” and the Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Nordic, and Germanic vernaculars of our barbarian ancestors on the wrong end of the catapult who gave us short, simple, cut-to-the-chase words like “kill” and “bullshit.”

Of course, using language to control a narrative is nothing new. Long before George Orwell wrote 1984, our nation coined Orwellian terms like “Manifest Destiny” to rationalize a transcontinental land grab, “Indian reservations” to refer to concentration camps for Native Americans, and “Benevolent Assimilation” to describe the violent seizure of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War, to name just a few.

It’s also important to distinguish between slang and jargon, which are spontaneously generated, and loaded language and weasel words, which are premeditated. Saying that a bunch of people who were fired were “given the boot” or that someone who died “kicked the bucket” is just colorful; describing mass layoffs with euphemisms like “downsizing” or “rightsizing,” or a death due to malpractice as a “negative patient care outcome,” is deliberately deceptive.

The fact is, not only has Spinglish been around for a long time, it’s everywhere: on Wall Street and Madison Avenue, inside the Beltway, in Silicon Valley and Hollywood, in the fields of Law, Medicine, the Arts—you name it, and if you can name it, someone can rename it to make it sound a whole lot better and promote it with a flurry of press releases flogged by a host of professional Spinocchios and hundreds of highly paid liars with fireproof pants ready to pull the genuine imitation faux wool over your eyes.

But now, thanks to this shoot-from-the-lip glossary of time-tested, tried- and-untrue terminology, you, too, can have just the right self-serving phrase at the tip of your forked tongue, and no matter how embarrassing the situation or awkward the silence, you’ll never be at a loss for misleading words again!

So apply some Sock-Puppet News-Job nose-growth-control cream, shown to be of significant value in limiting topical, prevarication-related nasal lengthening (your results may vary), put on that pair of Poppy-Khaki brand combustion-resistant trousers (certified 100% effective when worn with approved carbon-fiber undergarments), and issue a statement, run an ad, or just offer a simple explanation that tells it like it isn’t, it wasn’t, and it couldn’t ever have been.

Included here are the intro and all the entries under G.

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.


gallerist. Art dealer.

game improvement clubs. Golf equipment manufacturers’ term or a set of “easy-to-hit” hybrid irons and slice-proof woods designed for hopeless hackers. Such clubs tend to have extra-large heads or faces, and to be shorter than normal, design features that lessen the odds that striking the ball improperly will result in a bad shot.

game management. The hunting or mass slaughter of wild animals.

gaming. Gambling, as described by spokespeople for the “gaming” industry. Although “problem gambling” is widely recognized as a psychological disorder, there is apparently no “problem gaming.”

garden of remembrance. A cemetery.

gaseous intestinal by-product. Fart.

gate rape. See: enhanced screening procedures.

gender reassignment. Sex change surgery.

generational ferment. A term used by a senior executive at the William Morris Agency in Hollywood to account for the abrupt departure of five important young agents who later explained their mass defection as simply a matter of wanting more money than the notoriously stingy firm was willing to pay.

gentlemens club. Strip joint.

genuine imitation leather. Vinyl.

genuine synthetic fiber. What, according to the online magazine VotreArt, the linings of Amble Footwear’s Costa Brown loafers are crafted from.

getting lean and mean. Firing people.

Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan. A strategy devised by the American Petroleum Institute, and largely funded by ExxonMobil, designed to raise “serious questions about the scientific underpinnings” behind proposed climate change legislation.

Global War on Terror. See: War on Terror.

going to Switzerland. A term for assisted suicide, based on the fact that legally sanctioned euthanasia is more readily available in that country than in most others.

good-natured grunts. Booing and hissing when you or your colleagues or associates are the ones being booed and hissed. The term was coined in 1989 by David Beckwith while he was Vice President Dan Quayle’s press secretary to describe the reaction his boss received from cadets at the United States Military Academy when the subject of Quayle’s service in the Indiana National Guard during the Vietnam War came up.

good-neighbor policy. Invading a nearby country. For example, George Will wrote that the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 was “a good- neighbor policy. America’s role in Panama— in effect, administering a recount of last May’s election— is an act of hemispheric hygiene.” Example: “¡Caramba!” shouted the National Guard major as American paratroopers began landing in Panama City. “Twenty thousand of our good neighbors have decided to pay us an unexpected visit!”

goodwill. A term on a financial balance sheet indicating the amount of overpayment for a corporate acquisition.

goodwill payments. Compensation payments. The term was used by the Peverel Group to describe the money it paid back to customers, most of them elderly, who had been hoodwinked by one of the company’s subsidiaries into paying grossly inflated prices for burglar alarm upgrades. As The Guardian points out, calling the payments “compensation” would have been “an admission of guilt.”

government option. What Fox News Channel Vice President Bill Sammons, in 2009, instructed his on-air staff to call the “public option” originally included in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which was then under debate in Congress. Sammons issued his directive the day after Republican strategist Frank Luntz, appearing on Sean Hannity’s Fox News program, scolded Hannity for using the term “public option” to describe the government-run (but not government-funded) health insurance agency that would have been set up by President Obama’s legislation, as originally written. “If you call it a ‘public option,’ the American people are split,” Luntz explained, but “if you call it the ‘government option,’ the public is overwhelmingly against it.” In June 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, but only after the Senate had stripped the public option from the bill.

government relations professional. Lobbyist. According to The Hill newspaper, the American League of Lobbyists is considering rebranding itself “The Association of Government Relations Professionals” as part of its mission to “enhance the standing and reputation” of its members. [See also: legislative leadership advocate.]

great and good friend. The classic journalistic euphemism for “mistress,” coined by Time magazine to describe the relationship between Marion Davies and William Randolph Hearst.

great nightlife. A real-estate advertising term that, according to agent Kate Cocuzzo, means “you live above a bar.” “Stock up on earplugs,” she suggests. “Or Scotch.”

great restraint. What police officers always exercise up until the moment they are forced to shoot someone.

green-on-blue violence. A U.S. military term for the disturbingly common, and often fatal, attacks made by Afghan military or police trainees on the American or other NATO advisers who have been assigned to mentor them.

greenbacking. Hiring mercenary troops.

Greening Earth Society. An “astroturf” group organized and funded by the coal industry to promote the idea that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by fossil fuel combustion are encouraging the growth of plants and forests.

greenwashing. Adopting what are promoted as environmentally friendly policies purely for public relations purposes.

gremlins. In 2009, Eliot Spitzer, the governor of New York, was discovered to be “Client 9” of a high- priced call girl named Ashley Dupré, a revelation that quickly led to his resignation from office. Shortly thereafter, he appeared on the Today show and, when host Matt Lauer quizzed him about his habit of consorting with prostitutes, he replied, “I have tried to address these gremlins and confront them.” To help him in his quest, the New York Post published side-by-side photos of a creature from the hit 1984 horror move Gremlins and a hooker so that Spitzer could study the difference between the two.

ground-mounted confirmatory route markers. A term for “road signs” favored by Scott L. Pickard, a spokesperson for the Massachusetts Department of Public Works.

group home. Orphanage. [See also: congregate care facility.]

group therapy. A Vietnam-era military term for the indiscriminate firing by more than one soldier of M-16 rifles set on full automatic for the purpose of quickly clearing an area of enemy soldiers.

Guardian Deity of the Planet. One of the approximately 1,200 official titles carried by Kim Jong-Il, Supreme Leader of North Korea, until his death in December 2011. According to North Korea’s Central Broadcasting Station, “160 prominent leaders from across the world” used this and some of Kim’s other 1,199 titles “to honor our Great General.” [See also: Lodestar of the 21st Century.]

gummies. A code word used by baseball player Alex Rodriguez and his drug supplier, Anthony P. Bosch, to describe testosterone lozenges, a banned performance-enhancing substance. [See also: food; liquid soap; pink cream; rocket.]

gun grabber. A term for someone who supports gun control legislation favored by those who don’t.

From Spinglish by Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf. Published by arrangement with Blue Rider Press, a member of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright ©Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf, 2015.