Skip to main content
Dogwhistles and Figleaves: How Manipulative Language Spreads Racism and Falsehood

Dogwhistles and Figleaves: How Manipulative Language Spreads Racism and Falsehood

Current price: $32.99
Publication Date: February 8th, 2024
Oxford University Press, USA
The MIT Press Bookstore
1 on hand, as of Apr 11 10:42am
On Our Shelves Now


Pinpoints how "dogwhistles" and "figleaves," two kinds of linguistic trick, distort political discourse and normalize racism

It is widely accepted that political discourse in recent years has become more openly racist and more accepting of wildly implausible conspiracy theories. Dogwhistles and Figleaves explores ways in which such changes--both of which defied previously settled norms of political speech--have been brought about. Jennifer Saul shows that two linguistic devices, dogwhistles and figleaves, have played a crucial role. Some dogwhistles (such as "88", used by Nazis online to mean "Heil Hitler") serve to disguise messages that would otherwise be rejected as unacceptable, allowing them to be transmitted surreptitiously. Other dogwhistles (like the 1988 "Willie Horton" ad) work by influencing people in ways that they are not aware of, and which they would likely reject were they aware. Figleaves (such as "just asking questions") take messages that could easily be recognized as unacceptable, and provide just enough cover that people become more willing to accept them. Saul argues that these devices are important for the spread of racist discourse. She also shows how they contribute to the transmission of norm-violating discourse more generally, focusing on the case of wildly implausible conspiracist speech. Together, these devices have both exploited and widened existing divisions in society, and normalized racist and conspiracist speech. This book is the first full-length exploration of dogwhistles and figleaves. It offers an illuminating and disturbing view of the workings of contemporary political discourse.

About the Author

Jennifer Saul, Waterloo Chair in Social and Political Philosophy of Language, University of Waterloo Jennifer Saul works in social and political philosophy of language, with particular interests in deceptive, sexist, and racist language. She has also worked in feminist philosophy and philosophy of psychology. In addition, she served as Director of the Society for Women in Philosophy UK 2009-2019, and President of the Mind Association in 2019. In 2011 she was named Distinguished Woman Philosopher by the US Society for Women in Philosophy. She taught at the University of Sheffield 1995-2019, and has been at the University of Waterloo since 2019.