High above the Language Lounge, affixed to a mast bracketed to the roof and connected by wires intricately interwoven into the Visual Thesaurus, is a delicate scientific instrument. The name of this instrument is spin detector. In order to prevent confusion with the other kind of spin detector - the one used by high-energy physicists to detect the property called spin in subatomic particles - we sometimes call our spin detector by its other name: the hooeyometer. This sensitive and irreplaceable device monitors language as it flies through the ether, making note of usages that gratuitously push the boundaries of meaning. When infractions are detected, the hooeyometer sends impulses electronically into the Lounge. This sets up a trembling in the Visual Thesaurus which the Loungeurs, who slumber not nor sleep, investigate.
At present we have the spin detector on a special limited setting, which we call "two for one." It notes uses of language that employ two words where common sense suggests that one word would do the job satisfactorily. The idea for the "two for one" setting arose out of an observation: the American Dialect Society (ADS), in its annual Word of the Year competition, always singles out a term in the category of "most euphemistic," and more often than not, the winning words in this category are compound terms, consisting of two or more words. This suggests to us that when speakers and writers wish to make a slight detour around bald truth, it often takes more than one word to get there. A case in point: the 2005 winner in the most euphemistic category was "badly sourced," a term used by then Secretary of State Colin Powell and others as a euphemism for false. If you look at the wordmap of false, it's pretty clear why it is a word that is best avoided if one wants to put a positive spin on things.
We were reminded of "badly sourced" by a term that recently came sparking down the wires from the hooeyometer and jolted us all out of our reveries. The term is globally resourced. This is a locution that is still relatively new to English and we expect that its users were not entirely confident of it themselves, for they dared not give it expression in speech: when we traced it back to its source we found that it was merely flashed on the television screen, for about two seconds, during a commercial from an Asian car manufacturer that boasted of its auto assembly plant located in the United States. The full phrase was "using globally resourced parts." Just what does globally resourced mean? You will search for the phrase in vain on your chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese or on your Louis Vuitton Alizé® 24-Heures canvas valise, but the shorter and more direct version of globally resourced is the more familiar adjective imported.
Imported has an impeccable pedigree in English (first recorded usage: 1660) and it has never changed its meaning, but it has always been a double-edged sword. Its context determines everything about whether its associations are laudable or deplorable. Everyone seems to agree that imported cheese, wines, fashion accessories, and music CDs are a fine thing. Eyebrows go up, however, when imported designates something that, all other things being equal, would be just as good if not better procured at home. Think of pet food and toothpaste! The only friend of imported in the Visual Thesaurus is foreign, another word that does not enjoy a host of positive associations.
We suspect that the coiners of globally resourced were trying to strike a balance between truth and palatability and we commend them for their efforts, but their phrase does not pass the smell test. In fact, it has the same problem as badly sourced, and herein lies a lesson for those who would create a successful euphemism (or, depending on your point of view, a successful deployment of doublespeak): if you're going to use two words to soften the blow of one, make sure that (1) both of your words are unremarkable in their own right, and that (2) the words are strung together in a way that conforms to existing patterns, so as not call attention to one or the other.
The failing in both globally resourced and badly sourced is their use of adjectives (or past participles, if you will) from verbs that do not circulate widely outside of certain jargony circles. Source as a verb has been around for a little while (starting in the mid-20th century), but it is not common enough in ordinary discourse to be anything less than jarring when used as an adjective. Resource, on the other hand, is not even recognized as a verb in most dictionaries today - though you can expect it to turn up in the next editions of many of them, as its usage grows.
A different, relatively recent phrase that still sets the hooeyometer a-jangling whenever it is encountered (mainly in government literature) is food insecure. Followers of the ADS competition will know that this term was a winner in 1996: it is newspeak for hungry. Food insecure violates rule number (2) above: compounding via clunky syntax that has no parallel in other English terms. We suspect that the coiners of food insecure thought that they were on to a good thing: the earlier term food security is not a euphemism but a technical term to describe the state of having dependable access to nutrition. There are many established compounds in which security is the second term (national ~, airport ~, border ~, job ~), so this term fits a pattern and is easily integrated into mainstream English. There are no established adjectival compounds, however, in which insecure is the second term, and so food insecure is a Bridge Too Far: it is a term that will probably always stick out like a sore thumb, thus inviting auditors and readers to question what it really means.
Those who would spin a circuitous compound term with the hope that it will settle seamlessly into the heart of English would do well to study some time-honored examples. We suggest, for starters, water closet and restroom (for toilet), manufactured home (for trailer), or friendly fire (for fratricide). In the meantime, the hooeyometer will remain vigilant, in its modest attempt to keep the world safe from duplicity.
You can read about the ADS's words of the year here:
These two websites keep tabs on spin. The latter is mainly UK-oriented (or, we should say, orientated).