LOS ANGELES -- Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North and Rear Adm. John M. Poindexter won top recognition in the 1987 "doublespeak" competition with the use of "plausible deniability" to explain their decisions in the Iran-contra affair.

The National Council of Teachers of English bestowed the awards for deceptive language Friday during its annual convention.

"North never called any of his actions lying," said William D. Lutz, the Rutgers University professor who headed the committee that selected the winners based on misuse of language by public figures.

"In speaking of a false chronology of events which he helped construct, North said he 'was provided with additional input that was radically different from the truth,' " Lutz said.

Of North and Poindexter, who shared the spotlight at congressional hearings into the sale of arms to Iran and diversion of profits to aid the Nicaraguan contras, Lutz said, "Official lies were 'plausible deniability.' "

"In Poindexter's world," he added, "one can 'acquiesce' in a shipment of weapons while at the same time not authorize the shipment . . . . One can also send subordinates to lie to congressional committess if one does not 'micromanage' them. For Poindexter, 'outside interference' occurs when Congress attempts to fulfill its constitutional function of passing legislation."

Second place went to President Reagan for conflicting statements on his knowledge of and role in the arms sales.

Third place was shared by the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Department and the State Department for dubbing a new theory of limited warfare "low-intensity conflict."

The award recalls British author and social critic George Orwell's criticism of misleading public language in his novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four."