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.



The “Newspeak” of Orwell’s 1984 and the “theocratic language” of JWs



When two Jehovah’s Witness ladies deliver their prepared speech at your front door they take great pains to use plain English in such a way that you will understand everything they say.  After all, they hope that you will end up agreeing with them, and, in order to agree intelligently with their message, you must first understand it.  They try to speak your language at the door.

However, if you visit your local coffee shop an hour later when those same two ladies stop for their mid-morning or mid-afternoon break, and you slip into an adjoining booth unobserved, the conversation you overhear may prove completely foreign and unintelligible.  (Please note that you would have to sit down unobserved.  Witnesses in public places will often start reciting excerpts from their prepared speeches if they notice non-JWs listening.)  Their private dialogue might go something like this:

“Did we finish the territory, Sister Daniels?”

“Yes, Julie.  Those N.H.’s completed our coverage.”

“Good!  I’d like to take you to meet my study.  She’s making good progress.  Her husband recently began sitting in, and he just got a theocratic haircut.  They’re writing their letter to get out of Babylon.”

“Isn’t he the one who was once an approved associate?”

“Oh, no, sister!  I couldn’t even count my time on that call.”

“Good!  I’m auxiliary pioneering and I need to get my time in, but speaking of goats, Julie, I should alert you to a former Bethelite who’s new in town.”

“That old man who’s a member of the evil slave class?”

“You’ve already heard!  Yes, I met him years ago when I was at Brooklyn.  He worked in the factory, and he was a b.a. back then, but later he rejected new light and got disfellowshipped.”

“That is so sad!  How could anyone leave the truth?”

“It just shows our need to avoid independent thinking, and instead to exert ourselves vigorously to move ahead with the organization.”


These two Witness ladies are speaking English, but with so many peculiar usages thrown in that they might as well be speaking another language.  Actually, they are speaking what could be called “J.W.ese” [pronounced JAY´ DUB•BEL•YOO•EEZ´ ]—the unique language of Jehovah’s Witnesses.

JWs are so accustomed to speaking “J.W.ese” that they have to receive special training to speak plain English at the doors of strangers.  Each Witness, whether nine years old or ninety, remains continually enrolled in the local congregation’s Theocratic Ministry School where he or she practices speaking before an audience on a regular basis.  After presenting a talk the individual’s Speech Counsel slip (=report card) is graded on such points as volume, pausing, gestures, fluency, conversational quality, sense stress, modulation, warmth and feeling, personal appearance, and so on.  The Instructor marks each point either W for “Work on this,” I for “Improved,” or G for “Good.”  The student speaker works on two or three points each time up and goes on to other points only after achieving G grades on the current ones.  One of the first points of counsel each one works on is listed as “Clear, understandable” on the Speech Counsel slip.  The Theocratic Ministry School Guidebook gives this advice to Witnesses working on this aspect:

Our study of the Scriptures and the Watch Tower Society’s publications has given us a vocabulary of terms quite strange to those unacquainted with our work.  If we were to explain the truths of the Bible to some audiences, using terms such as these, either much of what we say would be lost or our speech would be entirely unintelligible.  (page 112)


So, Witnesses realize that most or all of what they say might prove “unintelligible” to outsiders without special care on their part to avoid using their normal every-day “J.W.ese” vocabulary.  The speech training book goes on to give specific examples:

Consider your audience.  What is the level of their understanding?  How much do they know of our work?  How many of these expressions will be as readily understood by them as by the speaker?  Terms like “theocracy,” “remnant,” “other sheep,” even “Armageddon” and “Kingdom,” can convey either a different thought to the hearer’s mind or none at all.  Even such terms as “soul,” “hell” and “immortality” need to be clarified if the hearer is unfamiliar with our work.  (page 112)


Is it simply a matter, then, of listeners being “unfamiliar with [the] work” Jehovah’s Witnesses do, just as a layman might be baffled when overhearing electronics technicians speak to each other about diodes, resistors, ohmmeters, and so on?  There is an element of that, as will be discussed later, but much more is involved.

Is it, then, a matter of doctrinal differences, with JWs attaching somewhat different significance to a few abstruse theological terms?  Yes, that too is involved—and to an extent most outsiders would find unimaginable, with Christ redefined as the first angel created and the Holy Spirit reduced to an impersonal active force.  More will definitely be said about this throughout this book, but there is still much more involved in the unique language JWs speak among themselves.

Yes, it is, in a sense, virtually a language of its own, not just a vocabulary of work-related tools like book bags, car groups, and territory maps (See definitions.) or theological terms like archangel, remnant, and little flock.  In fact, The Watchtower magazine, the principal publication of Jehovah’s Witnesses, acknowledges that the Witnesses speak a language of their own.  It refers to it as the “pure language” which it says “has its own vocabulary.”  The magazine declares further, “The most important term in this theocratic language is the name Jehovah… Other outstanding terms and expressions in this pure language are theocracy, kingdom, vindication, the Word, dedication, faithfulness, witnessing, Bible study, etc.”  (The Watchtower April 15, 1953, page 231)

The same article, titled “The Language Barrier and the ‘Pure Language,’” adds that “as the light increases this pure language keeps expanding… And as the columns of The Watchtower throw ever more light on God’s Word, Jehovah’s witnesses [sic] find their vocabulary being enriched, the pure language growing.”  (page 231)  Aware that outsiders are separated from JWs by such a language barrier, The Watchtower notes on the same page that “one United States judge once observed that Jehovah’s witnesses [sic] had their own vernacular.”

The full significance and impact of this “J.W.ese” language can be grasped only when it is placed in a wider context and when it is examined from other than simply a religious perspective. 

With the use of brainwashing techniques and reeducation camps by totalitarian communist regimes against dissidents among their own people and then during the early 1950’s against prisoners of war in Korea, psychiatrists, psychologists and sociologists began looking more closely at the processes of mental manipulation.  Language proved to be a key factor that surfaced in one study after another.  Experts studying the phenomenon found that brainwashers or thought reformers taught their victims to speak a “loaded language” with words and expressions carefully crafted like loaded dice to push the speaker’s thoughts in a predetermined direction.  Exit counselor Steven Hassan sums up their findings this way:  “A destructive cult typically has its own ‘loaded language’ of words and expressions. … controlling certain words helps to control thoughts.”—Combatting Cult Mind Control by Steven Hassan (Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1988), pages 61-62.

Actually, though, some time before the terms brainwashing and thought reform came into popular usage in the Western world, it was the insightful British writer George Orwell who brought the concept fully before the reading public in his 1949 classic novel titled Nineteen Eighty-Four.  The all-enslaving of “INGSOC” (English Socialism) portrayed in this novel with its pervasive reminder that “Big Brother Is Watching You” never materialized in the real world to rule the British Isles—perhaps due in part to Orwell’s graphic warning of how terrible it would be—but similar regimes have ruled and still rule parts of the earth, and cultic organizations have exercised similar authoritarian rule over their members.  Moreover, Orwell’s description of the role of the fictional language “Newspeak” in manipulating the minds of his characters has been reflected over and over again in real life.

In February, 1982, while myself a dissident member of the Watchtower organization, I wrote an article drawing parallels between the world of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and the world I lived in as a Jehovah’s Witness.  The Newspeak word facecrime perfectly summed up instructions we had just received to the effect that JW women “must not express disagreement with judicial decisions of the elders even by their facial expressions.  (See “The Author’s Testimony” at the end of this book.)  Two years later a dissident Canadian Witness and his wife produced a book that expanded on the parallels I had drawn and demonstrated dozens of other similarities. In their volume titled  The Orwellian World of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Toronto: Univ. of Toronto Press, 1984) Heather and Gary Botting provide a 12-page vocabulary and devote half a dozen pages to parallels between the JW use of language and the Newspeak of Orwell’s novel.

Besides facecrime there is also thoughtcrime in Big Brother’s world.  The chief purpose of Newspeak is to eliminate the possibility of committing thoughtcrime by eliminating the words necessary to verbalize any sort of challenge to or deviation from Party orthodoxy.  If you learn to think only Newspeak words, you cannot commit thoughtcrime, even accidentally.  In their book the Bottings draw attention to parallels and cite actual cases of JWs interrogated for thoughtcrimes.  Interestingly,  The Watchtower itself has directly commanded followers to “avoid independent thinking… questioning the counsel that is provided by God’s visible organization.”  (January 15, 1983, page 22)

Doublethink is another Newspeak word exemplified among Jehovah’s Witnesses.  It refers to the mental gymnastics enabling one to know the facts and yet to believe that white is black or that yes means no if the ruling authority says so.  The practice of doublethink allows JWs to attach contradictory meanings to certain “J.W.ese” words such as prophet and prophecy so that the organization’s predictions for specific dates are God’s prophecies while the dates are yet future but were never really promoted as prophetic utterances after they fail to come true—and so that the Governing Body speaks as God’s prophet while at the same time the Governing Body has never claimed to be a prophet of God.  (For examples see box titled “a prophet yet not a prophet” on page 90.)

Like the inhabitants of Orwell’s fictional world who see no problem with calling a forced labor camp a joycamp, Jehovah’s Witnesses gladly speak of cleaning their church building’s toilets as a Kingdom privilege.  Only upbeat positive-sounding words can be applied to the organization, while its opponents are automatically—with no consideration as to merit—assigned negative names such as  evil slaves or filthy apostates.

In his novel’s Appendix titled “The Principles of Newspeak” Orwell breaks down that fictional language into various component parts, outlining the mind control function of each.  The same can be done here for the “J.W.ese” language.