of J.W.ese

the unique language
of Jehovah's Witnesses

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Language's Role in Control

Orwell’s 1984 and J.W.ese

Language with an Agenda

J.W.ese Changes on Command

Breaking the Language Barrier

The Author’s Testimony


Key to Abbreviated Refs.



“J.W.ese”—a Language with a Built-In Agenda



People unfamiliar with the unique language spoken by Jehovah’s Witnesses can be helped to understand it more easily if it is broken down into its distinct elements.  Some of these categories overlap to one extent or another, but the JW vocabulary can be separated into these general divisions or word groupings:

(1)  Biblical retranslations:  expressions taken from the Watchtower Society’s New World Translation of the Bible.  JWs speak of Christ being nailed to the torture stake rather than the cross.

(2)  JW distinctives: activities or things that are peculiar to JWs.  For example, just as Hindus look up to their swami and worry about their karma, so JWs have their circuit overseer and worry about going out in service enough.

(3)  Wedge words:  new names assigned to things JWs share in common with other people.  To drive a wedge between Jehovah’s Witnesses and their non-Witness relatives and neighbors, Watchtower leaders assign new names to things held in common, thus eliminating potential common ground for friendly communication.  So, while others go to church JWs go to  Kingdom Hall.

(4)  Redefined words:  common words that take on totally different meanings in Witness usage.  Examples include spirit—defined as an inanimate force like electricity—and goat—a person who rejects the sect’s message.

(5)  Cloaking expressions:  obscure words used to conceal information from outsiders unfamiliar with the sect.  Witnesses resort to such devices when organizational instructions require them to violate tax laws, refuse military conscription, evade child welfare laws, and so on.  Falsifications on these matters are not considered lies, but theocratic war strategy.

(6)  Manipulative expressions:  Euphemisms, pejoratives, and other slanted expressions—the key linguistic element of mind control.   These expressions serve the purpose of shaping members’ thoughts by controlling the words they use to express them.  For example, the expression evil slave class automatic passes judgment on certain members who quit the sect.

Since each of these elements of the language functions somewhat differently and serves a somewhat different purpose, it will be helpful to discuss each element separately in some detail.

Biblical retranslations


One of the first goals a Jehovah’s Witness works toward with a prospective convert is to replace the individual’s Bible with the Watchtower Society’s New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.  The practice is often justified by pointing out that the new student will understand this modern translation more readily than the archaic Seventeenth Century language found in the King James or Douay versions.  However, JWs are actually just as eager to replace the New King James, the New International Version, and other contemporary translations.  Why?  Because hundreds of verses have been changed in the New World Translation to agree with Watchtower teachings.

These retranslated verses remove a number of common words from the everyday vocabulary of Jehovah’s Witnesses and add a number of new “J.W.ese” words to replace them.  Thus JWs speak of Christ’s torture stake or stake instead of his cross.  They refer to him as being impaled rather than crucified.  The crucifixion becomes the impalement.  The Holy Spirit is transformed into a holy spirit or active force.  Just as there is no hell in Watchtower theology, the word has also been removed from their Bible and from the active vocabulary of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  In its place they use transliterations of Hebrew and Greek terms—sheol, gehenna, and hades—with special sectarian definitions attached.  Even Christ becomes a god instead of God, and the name Jehovah is inserted into the New Testament in hundreds of places where Greek manuscripts of the Bible actually have the word for Lord (kuriov).


JW Distinctives


Perhaps the least sinister aspect of “J.W.ese” is the use of unique words for things and activities peculiar to Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Members of mainline Christian churches don’t speak of territory maps because they don’t cut their community’s street map into small pieces to guide small groups in canvassing door-to-door, and they don’t speak of counting their time because they don’t have to tally and report hours spent in religious activity.  Jehovah’s Witnesses do both of those things, and so it is only natural that they have come up with nouns and verbs to describe their unique paraphernalia and routines.

A jargon or specialized vocabulary of some sort is employed by many professions, sects, or groups of people united by a common interest or activity.  Pipe fitters and insulation installers toss around terms such as short- and long-radius elbows, sweeps, bends, and victaulic couplings—terms foreign to other people’s ears.  Stamp collectors have words to distinguish the varieties of printing, perforating, and preservation methods associated with postage stamps.  Astronomers classify as white dwarfs, red giants, binaries, and so on the tiny twinkling points of light the rest of us are content to refer to simply as stars. 

So, it should neither surprise nor offend us that Jehovah’s Witnesses have their own words associated with various aspects of selling religious literature from house to house.  Outsiders would normally not need to know such words or their meanings, but they are found as entries in our Dictionary section to aid those who do desire that knowledge.  The real cause for concern—and the reason for putting this volume together—is the sect’s manipulation of other words as an instrument of thought reform, mind control or brainwashing.  Such abuse (or misuse) of words becomes more apparent as the remaining elements of the “J.W.ese” language are examined.


Wedge words


To drive a wedge between Jehovah’s Witnesses and outsiders, Watchtower leaders assign new names to things held in common.  The resulting different vocabulary helps to distance JWs from their non-Witness relatives and neighbors.  If there are four men living on a small street, for example, the Baptist, the Lutheran, and the Methodist may feel some kinship because they all go to church, they all serve as deacons in their respective churches, and they all take Communion.  The fourth man, a Jehovah’s Witness, feels set apart from his neighbors because he “does not go to church, does not serve as a deacon, and does not take Communion.”  In reality, though, he does every one of those things but simply calls it by another name:  he goes to Kingdom Hall, he serves as a ministerial servant, and he partakes at Memorial.

The use of different terminology to describe things JWs share in common with believers of other religions serves the purpose of dividing Witnesses from their neighbors and hence keeps them more securely under the Watchtower Society’s influence.  Like members of other churches, Jehovah’s Witnesses attend services but they insist on calling them meetings, they sing hymns but they insist on calling them songs.   In such areas that would otherwise be common ground, the artificially created differences of vocabulary serve as a barrier keeping JWs apart from non-Witness relatives and neighbors.

The use of special words also serves another function for Jehovah’s Witnesses: these words act as passwords or verbal I.D. badges immediately identifying genuine Witnesses and alerting them to outsiders in their midst.  A stranger walking into Kingdom Hall who speaks the language is readily accepted as a visiting brother or sister.  A stranger, on the other hand, who misuses words, thus immediately reveals himself to be an outsider. 

Suppose, for example, that a local Witness greets a stranger standing in front of the corkboard at the back of the auditorium before the Sunday morning meeting.  If the visitor says, “Hi!  I was just looking at the bulletin board to find the topic of this morning’s sermon,” the Witness knows right away that this is either a newly interested person or a hostile infiltrator.  A JW would have phrased the same thought this way:  “Hi!  I was just looking at the information board to find the topic of this morning’s talk.  The term bulletin board was stricken from JW vocabulary decades ago due to its supposedly unsavory etymology.  (They trace its derivation to the papal bull, and certainly no loyal Witness would want to refer to the Kingdom Hall corkboard as a place for displaying documents issued by the Catholic pope.)  Sermon, on the other hand, refers to a prepared message presented on the doorstep during house-to-house work, whereas the 45-minute public address given on Sunday morning at Kingdom Hall is a talk in JW terminology.

This invisible linguistic barrier fulfills much the same function as physical isolation.  It confines members mentally in the same way that the dense jungles of Guyana physically confined the inhabitants of Jonestown.  If the latter had been able to discuss with Catholic and Lutheran neighbors the well-rehearsed and orchestrated mass suicide Rev. Jim Jones was preparing them for, they would no doubt have heard enough cautionary admonitions to escape following that madman to their death.  The liberating effect of outside communication was well understood by Soviet dictators who used sophisticated radio-jamming devices to silence Western broadcasts—and by the free world countries that invested in Radio Free Europe to penetrate that informational blockade.  It is also well understood by Watchtower leaders who encircle their followers with mental barbed wire to cut them off from their neighbors of other faiths.


Redefined Words


This is where the language Jehovah’s Witnesses speak becomes confusing.  Outsiders assume that familiar words have the familiar meanings normally attached to them.  Instead they find many surprises when listening to JWs speak:

A publisher is not a company producing books, but rather an individual—perhaps even a child—approved to go out knocking on doors.  A territory is a tiny map section that may be carried in one’s pocket.  A pioneer is not someone exploring a new frontier, but rather a JW out knocking on doors full-time.  A young man may talk about being in the service and doing k.p. for his c.o.—without any of the standard military meanings.  (See definitions.)  New light appears, not at dawn, but when a book is opened.  A man in charge is called a servant, and a little girl may introduce herself as a minister.

Add to this the fact that words such as Christ and worship have new meanings assigned to them, and it becomes clear that a special dictionary is needed to interpret JW language. 

Even with such help available it may not always be immediately clear when a JW is using a given word with its standard English definition or with its unique Watchtower meaning.  Both the context and the audience must be considered.  If speaking to another JW (and not for the benefit of eavesdropping outsiders) the “J.W.ese” definition is most likely meant.  If talking to an outsider involved with the Witness in a Bible study on the subject in question, the JW will likely be speaking “J.W.ese,” but if speaking at the door to a new contact, the standard English usage would be employed.


Cloaking Expressions


The use of obscure expressions to conceal information is not unique to religious cults.  Two groups well known for using professional jargon to hide what they are talking about are doctors and lawyers.  Attorneys who go on to become legislators then see to it that laws are set forth in language beyond the comprehension of ordinary citizens, thus requiring common folk to hire the services of attorneys whenever these laws must be consulted.  Lawyers often employ Latin expressions such as habeas corpus and amicus curiae to make themselves indispensable interpreters.  Physicians likewise use Latin terminology to conceal the tricks of their trade.  When a patient tells a doctor he has a skin inflammation, and the doctor diagnoses it as dermatitis, he has simply translated “skin inflammation” into another language—for a fee of $50.00 or more.  Money is the obvious motive when physicians and attorneys use cloaking expressions to conceal their trade secrets, but with Jehovah’s Witnesses there are other factors involved.

JWs use the word neutrality as a code word for their teaching that young men must refuse the draft in violation of military conscription laws—and must even refuse “alternative service” work in civilian hospitals.  To avoid possible legal problems as a consequence of advising young men to violate the law, Watchtower publications use obscure language meaningful only to Witnesses themselves.  Similarly, if a young man complies with the law for conscientious objectors by accepting his draft board’s assignment to work in a hospital, and the local JW elders punish him with expulsion from the sect, they announce instead that he has disassociate  himself—to hide the fact that he has actually been put on trial and expelled.      

There is even a “J.W.ese” expression for the use of such lying or deception to advance the organization’s interests.  It is euphemistically called theocratic war strategy.

When a Witness knocks at a door, gives a brief sales pitch, and sells a small book for a dollar, local laws may require him to collect sales tax.  (A credit report on the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., revealed $1.25 billion corporate sales figures for 1991, up from just over $1 billion in 1990.)  To evade this obligation the organization instructs the JW to say he did not sell the book; rather, he placed it.  He did not receive the dollar in payment; rather, the money was received coincidentally as an unrelated donation.

Another illegal activity covered by cloaking expressions relates to violating child welfare laws and ignoring court orders regarding medical treatment.  When taking such drastic steps to prevent blood transfusions for sick or injured children JWs commonly refer to their actions as keeping integrity or putting God first.


Manipulative Expressions


Euphemisms or slanted expressions serve the purpose of shaping members’ thoughts by controlling the words they use to express them.  This technique did not originate with Jehovah’s Witnesses, of course.  The world of commerce uses it widely in advertising hype and even in naming products:  Wonder Bread creates great expectations, and Super Glue is naturally assumed to be better than ordinary glue.  Corporate management can make a floor-sweeper’s job opening more attractive without paying out more in wages by changing the job title to Sanitation Engineer.

A similar propagandistic end is accomplished when an aggressive nation bent on foreign conquest names its military arm the “Department of Defense.” Loyal citizens who employ this terminology in their conversations tend to view their military actions as defensive, whether they actually are or not, since the name “Defense” is officially attached to these actions.  Similarly, when a totalitarian dictatorship takes on the name “People’s Democratic Republic of… ,  the name helps shape the thinking of susceptible individuals and pushes them toward viewing the government as democratic.  Free citizens, of course, are in a position to subject such political propaganda to open discussion and criticism.  Consumers, likewise, learn to take advertising hype with a grain of salt.  Manipulative language becomes much more controlling, however, in a totalitarian society or a religious cult where free discussion and criticism are not allowed.  (“Do you refuse to listen to bitter criticism of Jehovah’s organization?  You should refuse.”—The Watchtower May 15, 1984, page 17)

The Watchtower Society makes effective use of manipulative expressions from the very beginning of its training program for new converts.  JW recruiters offer a Bible study to people encountered at the doors, but those who accept the offer find themselves actually studying a Watchtower textbook while opening the Bible itself only occasionally.  Yet, because it is called a Bible study, impressionable people are led to think that they are studying the Bible. 

Instead of saying, “I’ve been a member of the organization for ten years,” a Witness is taught to say, “I’ve been in the Truth for ten years.”  Thus, the Truth becomes synonymous with the organization in the JW’s mind.  This helps prevent members from questioning whether the sect’s teachings are true or not.  After all, how could the Truth be false?  Anyone who questions or disagrees with the Truth automatically identifies himself with lies.  Other religions opposed to the Truth are automatically false.

JWs are constantly encouraged to move ahead with Jehovah’s organization by accepting doctrinal changes as soon as these are introduced.  This attaches to doctrinal changes the positive connotation of progress, even when indecisive leadership actually flip-flops back and forth, as it has on a number of issues.  The Bible at Ephesians 4:14 speaks of people misled so as to be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine,” but when Watchtower doctrine wavers to and fro, JWs must immediately endorse each change, since failure to move ahead gives the appearance of foolishly resisting progress.  Such doctrinal changes are also introduced as new light, implying that failure to accept the new teachings leaves one in darkness.


Cumulative Effect


Combined with other aspects of the Watchtower mind control program not detailed in this book—indoctrination, social isolation, repetitive meeting programs, rewards and punishments,  judicial committee enforcement, and so on—communicating constantly in the “J.W.ese” language helps mold the thinking of Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Longtime members are ready to accept any new doctrine, to reject any old pattern of thinking, to refuse a needed blood transfusion, and even to cut off dear friends and loved ones, on command from headquarters.