Doctor Of Spin

We know it’s bad. Just give it to us straight. No spin. Wait. Why is the word ‘spin’ used in this context?



Spin. After a while you come to recognize the facial, vocal, and verbal tells when Spokesperson X is locking into their spin. Oh boy. Here come the hard eyes and the three-word sentence fragments. We are in for some half-truths, heartless cheers, and perfectly pruned data.

How did we come to call these PR-sifted messages ‘spin’?

Some feel the phrase goes back to late-night, rum-fueled sailors ‘spinning’ wildly exaggerated ‘yarns’ about all the magnificent things they have done. This nautical yarn-spinning was said to have originated with earlier generation sailors having to entertain themselves whilst spending countless hours repairing sea-worthy ropes by re-twisting – or ‘spinning’ – lose fibers.

Others link the phrase to baseball – specifically pitchers who are able to get a spin on a ball, throwing it off its expected path.

However, language guru and author William Safire links the ‘spin doctor’ phrase to the theatre and the ‘fixers’ hired to come in and do major edits on plays that are just not working with audiences. As Safire wrote in a 1986 New York Times article:  ‘The phrase spin doctor was coined on the analogy of play doctor, one who fixes up a limping second act, and gains from the larcenous connotation of the verb doctor, to fix a product the way a crooked bookkeeper ”cooks” books.’



Header: Filip Mroz


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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton