With These Words I Can Sell You Anything

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“With These Words I Can Sell You Anything” is an article written by William Lutz, explaining the tactics of marketers to sell their products. It is an excerpt from his book Doublespeak, published in 1990. William Lutz has been called “the George Orwell of the 1990s”, and indeed many of his books are titled in direct reference to Orwell’s works. Lutz claims in his article that there’s a big conspiracy where the people trying to sell us things are giving us ineffective products disguised as something much better. Unfortunately, he comes off as paranoid; someone making a big fuss over that which in reality isn’t a big deal and as someone late to the party, only discovering something long after everyone else.

The first issue with Lutz is his hatred of the word ‘help’. He says that when a product claims to ‘help relieve your cold fast’ that consumers should be wary before buying the product. He says that the word ‘help’ doesn’t mean ‘cure’, and at best this medicine will only relieve your symptoms. He also claims that ‘fast’ could really be any period of time. Unfortunately, if people stop beating up the advertisers and look at their words rationally there’s no problem with buying their product at all. There aren’t many products out there that will instantly cure a cold the moment it’s taken, and surely it isn’t cheap. If there’s an alternative that can relieve the symptoms, hasn’t it basically helped to cure the cold? If someone buy this medicine and takes it for the duration of a colds natural cycle, that person is much better off than if they took nothing at all. Of course ‘fast’ could mean any period of time, but if it took more than a day to take effect nobody would buy it more than once. See, Lutz has the proper idea when it comes to paying attention to words, but he fails to see the big picture when it comes to how effective the product is despite the words. An unpopular product would never last on the market.

Lutz gives numerous examples of “weasel words”,...
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