Weasel Words

In a previous post, I called these words “invisibility cloaks” but now I have found that there is actually a proper way to describe them.  They are weasel words.

Weasel Word (wiki): words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said, when in fact only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated.

Being careful to watch the definition, what are other words you see used as “weasel” words.


Filed under Philosophy & Religion

16 responses to “Weasel Words

  1. Natural. Naturally.

  2. Wow, Dan. That is true. I get lots of patients who take things as remedies simply because they are advertised as “natural”. For of course, all things natural are good, wholesome and fulfilling! Nature loves us. Yeah, right! What were you thinking about as examples of its weasely use?

  3. Boz

    SOME members of group x do y.
    MANY members of group x do y.

    very sneaky! you can create the impression that group X is linked to activity Y, even if only one or two members do Y !

  4. Hi, Sabio. I’ve been told that the word “natural” —as used by food processors to sanctify their products—has exactly zero meaning. An all natural granola bar sounds good. A natural food could, even by my standards, be all natural and still include toxic levels of “natural” arsenic.

    The word “natural” was/is also bandied about in education circles with regard to literacy. This idea was that learning to read and write should be done informally because reading and writing are “natural” in ways similar to learning to listen and talk which we do learn informally.

    Despite their egg stealing habits, though, and wiki notwithstanding, I wonder if weasels are taking a bad rap here, Sabio. They’re just going about their days, like groundhogs. They don’t even talk. How about “ad man” words, something like that?

  5. @Boz – I believe you are describing the age old political game, find an extremist that calls themselves X and attribute all their wacky ideas to all people who clal themselves X. Sometimes this is also turned into the ‘slippery slope’ arguement which can take any action, and with magical leaps of deduction, can show how it will morph into another action. Gay marriage is a good one, you’ll always hear, “What’s next, them marrying goats?”

  6. @ Dan: LOL — poor weasels — you are right !!

    @ Kyle & Boz:
    Neither of these are Weasel Words, but informal fallacy issues. I think Boz’s example is “Hasty Generalization” and Kyle’s is “Slippery Slope“. Want to make another try? 🙂

  7. @Sabio – Yes, indeed, you are correct. I definitely see how any given group has these types of words. Sometimes they are used in legitamite fashion, while other times they are used to give the illusion of being specific. Language is such a funny thing, since we bring our own conceptions and history to each of our own word definitions.

    One weasel word Buddhists use sometimes is emptiness. We say from emptiness all things arise, but this a tricky wording. Emptiness does not mean voidness or nothingness. Some Buddhists use it when they get backed into a corner when trying to describe practice. In one way, it is legitamite to use this word when attempting to describe something, but sometimes its used as a cop out.

  8. I’m listening to hits from the forties, you know, Judy Garland, Mills Brothers, and the like and it occurs to me that the ultimate weasel word might just be love. Boy, in English that word can mean many quite different things.

  9. i have faith that karma lead you to do a lot of research for this post.

  10. @ Dan
    Absolutely, “Love” has to be the greatest of weasel words.

    @ Kyle
    Indeed, I have seen “Emptiness” used very conveniently by Buddhists to back whatever nonsense that comforts their world.

  11. Well, you’ve used these ones before, but since no one has brought them up,

    how about ‘self’ or ‘soul’?

    Or maybe ‘authoritative’?

    That one has always made my spidey-sense tingle.

  12. how about “reason” or “logic”?

  13. @ Zero
    “Reason” or “Logic” can be used rather slimy. But at least with them, we can reign in the conversation by asking for evidence which has rules of engagement.

  14. reason would state that this would be true. but my logic presents a strawman and shows how your response is actually a genetic fallacy.

  15. The poor old weasel when it is our own human thought process manipulating and tricking us! The weasel is the main character in my novel!

  16. @ Nava: I meant, in no way, to belittle the main character in your novel. I love weasels — as often, humans have mistypified them.

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