Beware of “growthspeak” warns Steven Poole, an expert on the manipulative power of language

Steven Poole, a frequent cultural commentator and critically acclaimed author of “Unspeak” (2006), has warned that as the UK election draws near, it is going to be difficult to avoid an avalanche of Growthspeak. He notes that the term economic “growth” is so familiar we can easily forget that it’s a metaphor, and is quick to point out that nothing is actually growing.

Economic growth, Steven explains, means that some number representing GDP is higher than a previous such number. He goes on to say that there are well-known problems with taking GDP as a measure of how excellent everything is; for example, the economy might be “growing” even as income inequality goes up at the same time.

Because we associate growth with positive things, Steven demonstrates that the economic metaphor of “growth” helps persuade us that policies leading to such growth are always good. However, he argues that “growth is good when it is ‘steady’ or ‘strong’, but bad when it is ‘unsustainable’…[therefore] growth might be cancerous rather than nutritious.”

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