Making Sense of Spin

“Spin” is a pejorative term for a ubiquitous form of communication. Spin is viewed by many as deceptive, and by others as bending or twisting the truth. But spin need not be deceptive and the metaphors are less than clear. The aim here is to clarify what spin is: spin is identified as a form of selective claim-making, where the process of selection is governed by an intention to bring about promotional perlocutionary effects. The process of selection may pertain to aspects of some situation or phenomenon,; or to the lexis used in making the claims. Not all selective promotional communication is spin. Spin involves a distinctive kind of dissociation between the speaker’s first-order interpretation and the constructed interpretation or claim offered to others. With these clarifications in place the discussion turns to the complex connections between spin, truthfulness and deception. Aspect-selective spin can be truthful, and it need not be deceptive in its intentions or effects, but may risk deceiving audiences. Lexical spin is less readily truthful, and both forms of spin prudentially require a distinctive kind of concealment of the speaker’s intentions. The account developed here does not address normative questions about whether, or how, spin might be wrong, but aims to provide a clear and adequate account of spin as a basis for addressing normative questions about spin.
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DOI 10.1111/j.1468-5930.2012.00566.x
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