How Did We Become ‘Spin Doctors’ Anyway?

what-is-public-relationsSo, there I was reading PR Week recently when I noticed its quote of the day: “PR professionals hate spin and what it stands for.” The fact that said PR professional shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition notwithstanding, the sentiment is right on!

Candidly, I have never been so smug with this craft to think I am beyond being called a “flack.”

It’s our nickname and it’s a term of endearment. Many journalists respectively celebrate their status as “hacks.” However, one term that is universally frowned upon in this establishment is “Spin Doctor.” 

Why? The term connotes ne’er-do-wells, people who suck at PR, and borderline used-car salesmen or, in the worst case scenario, lobbyists.

Unfortunately, the literal meaning of the term is even worse…

The term “spin doctor” became a common addition to the English language in the 1980s. While its exact origin is uncertain, the word is an amalgam — a mixture — of “spinning” and “doctoring.”

spin-doctorFirst, the “spin” is a sporting metaphor that most experts believe initially referred to the fancy movement a billiards player puts on the cue ball when giving it some English. Maybe you have been player pool with some shark, who rocks the stick behind the back and knocks in a two-ball split in one shot.

That cat understands “spin.” The second half of this derogatory term comes the verb not the noun. To “doctor” something ostensibly means to “patch something up” or put together in a fashion that is unlike how it should be in the first place. Put the two together and you get someone in this fabled profession that sucks out loud by placing huge emphasis on the one aspect of an issue while completely showing off a shiny object hoping you will not see the dull, blunt other side of the issue.

Did you know the term “spin doctor” was first used in print in 1977? 

The term “spin doctor” was coined by American novelist Saul Bellow, who spoke in his 1977 Jefferson Lecture about political actors “capturing the presidency itself with the aid of spin doctors.” It took a while, but the phrase “spin doctor” first appeared in the press on October 21, 1984, in a New York Times editorial commenting on the televising of presidential debates.

Go figure, right?!

And so, we have been thrust into the political spotlight of mirth ever since. The problem is that we continue to stay in that light because there are still people in this profession who continue to embrace the spin cycle–and they’re making the rest of us dizzy.

While that vocal minority will continue to be the rusty anchor of this ship, the rest of us can really get upset about this term and take strength because now that we know we are neither spinners nor doctors, maybe we can just be PR professional about the whole thing and get back to helping clients tell their stories.

Okay, thanks.