Liam Farrell: When something sounds to good to be true

Words are plastic nowadays, and their definitions are no longer fixed and certain. Instead their meanings can be twisted, manipulated and eroded to suit the user's needs, so that you mean what you say rather than say what you mean (or the other way).

New Labour is a master at this arcane and mischievous art; crap hospitals become 'foundation' hospitals, tatty old 1960s-built health centres become 'polyclinics'.

Such flexibility of language is nothing new, and was fortold by both Lewis Carroll's Humpty Dumpty and by George Orwell. It's just a short hop from newspeak and doublethink to detox and polyclinic.

It is a new world in which terrorists become insurgents; innocent victims first become civilian casualties before morphing into collateral damage; Bono is regarded as an international philanthropist instead of a greedy tax-dodger; and detoxification is no longer the process by which toxins are changed into less toxic or more readily excretable substances but rather a Sunday supplement conceit that leads to hapless, vulnerable people being fleeced by cunning, avaricious charlatans.

It is wonderful how seemingly any old rubbish can be flogged simply by putting the word 'detox' in front of it. It's like a magic wand; idly Googling 'detox', I come up with detox diets, detox tea and detox footpads - for those of us who wish to excrete urea via our feet rather than via more conventional methods, like a toilet. How did it come to this? How did an innocent clinical term become a marketer's cynical dream?

It's because a pseudoscience has been created. The lies and deceit hide furtively behind the illusion of knowledge, giving the veneer of scientific credibility to what is the equivalent of selling snake-oil. As we used to say before oral exams, if you can't baffle them with brilliance, boggle them with bullshit.

Gullible people, as any con-man will tell you, actually want to be fooled; they want to believe that there really is a therapy out there which can cure all ills without any unpleasant side-effects, while at the same time preserving the rainforest and the ozone layer, all in a trendy holistic manner.

When something sounds too good to be true, of course, it usually is.

Except for statins.

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