Definition of Spin

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

DJ Spinning
Spin is a contemporary term for a form of propaganda that relies on deceptive methods of persuasion. Peter Mason/Getty Images

Spin is a contemporary term for a form of propaganda that relies on deceptive methods of persuasion.

In politics, business, and elsewhere, spin is often characterized by exaggeration, euphemisms, inaccuracies, half-truths, and excessively emotional appeals.

A person who composes and/or communicates spin is referred to as a spin doctor.

Examples and Observations

"I would define spin as the shaping of events to make you look better than anybody else.

I think it is . . . an art form now and it gets in the way of the truth."
(Benjamin Bradlee, executive editor of The Washington Post, quoted by Woody Klein in All the Presidents' Spokesmen: Spinning the News, White House Press From Franklin D. Roosevelt to George W. Bush. Praeger Publishers, 2008)

Manipulating Meaning

"Often associated with newspapers and politicians, to use spin is to manipulate meaning, to twist truth for particular ends--usually with the aim of persuading readers or listeners that things are other than they are. As in idioms such as to put a ‘positive spin on something’--or a ‘negative spin on something’--one line of meaning is concealed, while another--at least intentionally--takes its place. Spin is language which, for whatever reason, has designs on us. . . .

"As the Oxford English Dictionary confirms, this sense of spin emerges only in the later 1970s, originally in the context of American politics."
(Lynda Mugglestone, "A Journey Through Spin." OxfordWords Blog, September 12, 2011)

Deception

"We live in a world of spin. It flies at us in the form of misleading commercials for products and political candidates and about public policy matters. It comes from businesses, political leaders, lobbying groups and political parties. Millions are deceived every day…all because of spin. ‘Spin’ is the polite word for deception.

Spinners mislead by means that range from subtle omission to outright lies. Spin paints a false picture of reality, by bending facts, mischaracterizing the words of others, ignoring or denying evidence, or just 'spinning a yarn'--by making things up."
(Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation. Random House, 2007)

Spin and Rhetoric

"The implicit sense of immorality attached to 'spin' and 'rhetoric' leads lawmakers and candidates to use these words to undermine the sincerity of the opposition. As then House Leader Dennis Hastert declared in a 2005 debate over the 'estate/death' tax, 'You see, no matter what kind of spin our friends on the other side of the aisle try to use, the deathtax simply isn't fair.' . . .

"All of this points to an atmosphere of moral ambivalence that surrounds the modern practice of spin and rhetoric. At the level of principle, rhetorical speech is most often seen as disingenuous, inauthentic, and even morally dangerous. Yet at the level of practice, it is often accepted as an inevitable and necessary part of competitive party politics."
(Nathaniel J. Klemp, The Morality of Spin: Virtue and Vice in Political Rhetoric and the Christian Right.

Rowman & Littlefield, 2012)

Managing the News

"[One] way the government manages the news is by inserting into newscasts prepackaged reports that get their message out or put a positive spin on the news. (Note that the power of government to censor is much greater in many other countries than in the United States and in some other industrial democracies.)"
(Nancy Cavender and Howard Kahane, Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric: The Use of Reason in Everyday Life, 11th ed. Wadsworth, 2010)

Spin vs. Debate

"Democrats have been known to conduct their fair share of 'spin.' During the presidential election campaign season of 2004, some liberal Democrats 'indulged in inflammatory and unsubstantiated attacks on the right' by comparing the Bush administration to Nazi Germany, associating the Republican Party with a racist fringe candidate, and alleging--without evidence--that Bush advisor Karl Rove was the mastermind behind the attacks on John Kerry's war record.

These occurrences of manipulative rhetoric [led] one commentator on political spin to conclude that, 'in the heat of the campaign, reasonable debate is again falling by the wayside.'"
(Bruce C. Jansson, Becoming an Effective Policy Advocate: From Policy Practice to Social Justice, 6th ed. Brooks/Cole, 2011)

Spin Doctors

"[In a 1998 interview that Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott] gave to the Independent, . . . he said 'we need to get away from rhetoric and back on to the substance of government.' That statement apparently constituted the basis for the Independent's headline: 'Prescott bins the spin for real policies.' 'The spin' is an allusion to New Labour's 'spin-doctors,' the people responsible for the media presentation of the Government and for putting a media 'spin' (or angle) on its policies and activities."
(Norm Fairclough, New Labour, New Language? Routledge, 2000)

Etymology
From Old English, "draw, stretch, spin"