“Perception Management” with “Terminological Inexactitude”

It was Winston Churchill, long before he became Sir Winston, who invented “terminological inexactitude” when referring to something that may have been stated inaccurately.

That was in 1906 and in the more than 110 years since the phrase was coined it has been used many times in democratic parliaments when one member wanted to call another an outright liar but was restrained by parliamentary rules which forbid such uncouth language.

But there was nothing in the rules to prevent one member from implying that another was advancing an argument with “terminological inexactitude.” It’s clever, neatly permitting one member to imply what needs to be said but can’t be said outright. And, until recently, it was enough to discombobulate most politicians given to outrageous claims and/or carefully crafted lies.

Not anymore. In the past decade or so, spin doctors – the people hired by politicians to make them look good however dubious their policies and claims – have authored a new lexicon to cover the sins of their clients. When their lies are challenged with a well-documented array of facts, to prove them false they don’t withdraw but simply respond with a list of proudly proclaimed “alternative facts.”

In a recent speech at the World Government Summit in Dubai, Nobel prize winner Joseph Stiglitz commented: “It used to be we could have a discussion and agree on facts, but disagree on interpretation.” He warned that belief in alternative facts would undermine “the basis of a common agreement about what is truth…..it’s going to be very, very difficult to reach a consensus on the way forward.”

I doubt if the spin doctors will listen. They subscribe to the view expressed in the Guardian newspaper a few days ago: “Facts are sacred – but alternative facts are free” to be used whenever necessary to blanket lies.

Alternative facts are not the only new slogans in modern media manipulation slang. With a provincial election due in British Columbia in May here are one or two guaranteed to surface as the campaign moves into high gear.

Gaslighting – (from the stage play and mind control movie Gaslight) is defined as a form of manipulation that seeks to create doubts in individuals or organizations. In BC, the government will use the gaslighting technique to plants seeds of doubt in the minds of voters and hopefully persuade them the NDP lacks the ability to govern wisely. The NDP will use the same technique to try and persuade the electorate the Liberal government has been deceiving voters for years and will continue to do so if re-elected.

Factoids – these close cousins to alternative facts are usually repeated “facts” about the ideology of a party or organization. All parties use them and hope that, if repeated often enough, they will become accepted as facts.

Perception management – mainly applicable to national governments seeking support for the launch of military actions, but also applicable in election campaigns. It was first used during President Ronald Reagan’s term in office. The U.S. Department of Defence defines the program: “Actions to convey and/or deny selected information to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives and objective reasoning….ultimately resulting in foreign behaviors and official actions favorable to the originators objectives…..”

Delete the two “foreign” mentions, and “perception management” as a civilian election campaign weapon is quickly recognized.

Woven into all campaigns will be a share of double speak, a dash of circular sourcing run through a filter bubble with a taste of dog-whistle politics. Feel free to Google them to better understand how you will be force fed for a month after the election writ is dropped.

Here’s one more tactic guaranteed to be served up: Euphemistic mispeaking – being economical with the truth; a slip of the tongue; to mis-speak.” All coming soon to an election platform near you, terminological inexactitude tested and possibly dangerously infected.

Stay alert!


  1. I like to yield to the master, Joseph Goebbels:

    “A lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth.”

    “If you tell the same lie enough times, people will believe it; and the bigger the lie, the better.”

    “Propaganda works best when those who are being manipulated are confident they are acting on their own free will.”

    And finally, “The truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

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