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Part diatribe, part cool reflection on the state of Australia’s public language, Don Watson’s DEATH SENTENCE is scathing, funny and brilliant.

‘ ... in public life the language has never been held in less regard. It withers in the dungeons of the technocratic mind. It is butchered by the media. In politics it lacks all qualifications for the main game.’ Don Watson
Almost sixty years ago, George Orwell described the decay of language and why this threatened democratic society. But compared to what we now endure, the public language of Orwell's day brimmed with life and truth. Today's corporations, government departments, news media, and, perhaps most dangerously, politicians – speak to each other and to us in clich'd, impenetrable, lifeless sludge.
Don Watson can bear it no longer. In DEATH SENTENCE, part diatribe, part cool reflection on the state of Australia's public language, he takes a blowtorch to the words – and their users – who kill joy, imagination and clarity. Scathing, funny and brilliant, DEATH SENTENCE is a small book of profound weight – and timeliness.


‘The Book of the Year... witty, erudite and funny. Awfully funny.’ - Simon Hughes, The Australian Financial Review

Watson makes aneloquent, elegant, and sometimes scathing case for taking back language from those who would trip it of all color and emotion and, therefore, of all meaning.

Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist

many lessons and insights in this book

Leigh Buchanan, Harvard Business Review

[Watson is] always clear and precise, even when exposing the verbal pollution that passes for wisdom in the public realm.

Toronto Star

Don Watson has written a fine and necessary book. Any citizen who neglects to read it does so at his or her peril.

Lewis H Lapham, Harper's Magazine

[a] marvelous polemic...


Captures the powerlessness and frustration we feel when confronted by meaningless words delivered with authority.

Los Angeles Times Book Review

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback


    November 1, 2004

    Vintage Australia

    208 pages

    RRP $19.99

    Online retailers

    • Abbey's Bookshop
    • Angus & Robertson Bookworld
    • Booktopia
    • Boomerang Books
    • Collins Booksellers
    • Dymocks
    • Books Kinokuniya
    • The Nile
    • QBD
    • Readings
    • Robinsons Bookshop

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

  • EBook


    April 1, 2011

    Random House Australia

    204 pages

    Online retailers

    • iBooks
    • Amazon Kindle
    • Booktopia
    • eBooks
    • Google Play
    • Kobo

    Find your local bookstore at booksellers.org.au

Also by Don Watson

The Bush
There It Is Again
A Single Tree
Enemy Within: American Politics in the Time of Trump: Quarterly Essay 63
Worst Words
Reflections on Recollections of a Bleeding Heart
The Big House on the Hill
The Big House on the Hill (Storycuts)
Reflections on Recollections of a Bleeding Heart (Storycuts)
Recollections Of A Bleeding Heart 10th Anniversary Edition
Bendable Learnings
American Journeys
On Indignation
The Wayward Tourist
Watson's Dictionary Of Weasel Words
Rabbit Syndrome: Australia & America: Quarterly Essay 4
Caledonia Australis


Late Essays
Best Laid Plans
The Road to Little Dribbling
Depends What You Mean by Extremist
The Amazing Book is Not on Fire
The Twits
Book With No Pictures
The Shepherd's Life
Shit Happens!
Everything I Need To Know I Learned From A Little Golden Book
Being There
On Passion
On Doubt
There It Is Again
Chronicles of a Liquid Society
Home and Away
Bit Rot