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Doublespeak Derby: Worst First

--The National Council of Teachers of English delivered its annual scolding for the worst doublespeak, citing as examples a plane’s “uncontrolled contact with the ground” (translation: it crashed) and a Chrysler AMC plant’s “career alternative enhancement program” (the plant was closing; its 5,000 workers were losing their jobs). Doublespeak allows people “to talk about something without really talking about it,” said Rutgers University Prof. William Lutz, head of the doublespeak committee of the Urbana, Ill.-based council. First prize--if that’s the proper word--went to Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci, Adm. William Crowe and Rear Adm. William Fogerty for their explanations after the U.S. ship Vincennes downed an Iranian airliner in the Persian Gulf. Although official reports and a news conference, Lutz said, contained “the doublespeak of omission, distortion, contradiction and misdirection,” Carlucci was quoted as saying, “We chose not to withhold anything.” An anonymous official of President Reagan’s Administration got second place for his denial that the Administration had covered up Honduran military officials’ involvement in drug crimes. His statement: “It wasn’t that there was a cover-up. It’s just that people knew certain questions shouldn’t be asked.” Third place went to Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), who said that “capital punishment is our society’s recognition of the sanctity of human life.”

--A crowd estimated by police at more than 5,000 people, including Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, braved rain and sleet to commemorate the 125th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The ceremony included a parade and a reenactment of the speech delivered Nov. 19, 1863, during the dedication of part of the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pa., as a national cemetery. “Edward Everett, the nationally known orator, was the featured speaker, and spoke for nearly two hours,” Rehnquist said. “Lincoln was invited only to make a few remarks. Yet Everett’s oration is forgotten, but Lincoln’s remarks will live forever.” James A. Getty, portraying Lincoln, repeated the 270-word speech, which begins: “Four score and seven years ago . . . “

--What does one have to do to get birthday letters from President Reagan, President-elect George Bush and former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald R. Ford? Carrie White did it by living to be 114, making her the world’s oldest person. A party for her at Putnam Memorial Nursing Home in Palatka, Fla., also included a band, cake and a citation from the Guinness Book of World Records.


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