Semantic Manipulation

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The meaning of words is not fixed, it is malable.


Certain words, phrases, or ideas become taboo in societies due to their negative definitions. When these definitions prevent governments or corporations from their goals, they will sidestep the problem by redefining/rephrasing words or using straw man tactics to manipulate the public into accepting something they otherwise would not accept. Redefining negative or positive words, phrases, or ideas to change their meaning to support an argument or idea. This is done without changing the true merits of the words or phrases.

How it Works

To rename or relabel an act or object for the purpose of acquiring different results, outcomes or perspectives can be classified as Semantic Manipulation. The distortion of the original semantics can be motivated by wealth, power or to maintain the status quo within an organization that is reluctant to change. Like wise, Semantic Manipulation can be used to provide you with false information within media and especially pseudoscience. in doing so,Semantic Manipulation can not only be used to maintain a certain course within a system, but can also be used to influence it into a different direction. This works because language can be used to influence people's actions and beliefs. As linguist Benjamin Whorf stated, "“The structure of anyone’s native language strongly influences or fully determines the world-view he will acquire as he learns the language.”[1]


There have been many different examples in the last few years in explaining how Semantic Manipulation works. One of the most disasterous examples is that of the Bush administration distorting the fact that lead up to the Gulf War. Despite the fact that the UN weapon inspectors could not find evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Bush administration created their own fact to support their agenda within the Middle East. [2]

The Semantic Manipulation of the fact of Iraq's weapon program, coupled with the idea that Iraq had something to do with the 9/11 attack was the reason the U.S. went to war in the Gulf. Against the backdrop of protest within and outside the U.S. against the war, and conflicting information coming to light against the Bush administration original claim, The U.S. entered open hostilities with Iraq under false and distorted information. The willful manipulation of data to support a preconceived agenda is almost always at the core of Semantic Manipulation.

During the W. Bush administration semantic manipulation was everywhere. “The War on Terrorism” was a semantic manipulation of the word “terrorism,” which is loosely defined, however it gave the government the extra power it has in time of war for an indeterminable amount of time. The Patriot Act, the invasive, controversial legislation was given a name that suggests anyone against it was “unpatriotic.” The slogan “Support the Troops” was seen everywhere, suggesting that if one was against the indefinable, unjust war that they were also against the troops. This again suggests opposers were “unpatriotic.” The best example may be that torture was renamed “enhanced interrogation.”[3]

Private companies can interpret words present in laws to try to manipulate the outcome of certain legal matters. [4]


Professional Obfuscation and Semantic Manipulation are very closely related and are used for much the same purpose as the other. They are often used interchangeably and side-by-side.

Distorting History: Semantic Manipulation is a sort of history distortion in that you are changing the meanings of established words and phrases that have historically been used for other meanings.

Hidden Agendas works with this pattern in that Semantic Manipulation often distorts the agenda being propagated thru the method of changing the way we talk about it.


  1. Brown, R. (1976). Reference in memorial tribute to Eric Lenneberg. Cognition, 4(2), 125-153.
  2. Freedman, Lawrence. "War in Iraq: selling the threat." Survival 46.2 (2004): 7-49.
  3. Nordgren, Loran F., Mary-Hunter Morris McDonnell, and George Loewenstein. "What constitutes torture? Psychological impediments to an objective evaluation of enhanced interrogation tactics." Psychological science 22.5 (2011): 689-694.