Weasel words are words or phrases used to intentionally mislead while sounding authoritative. They are commonly used to manipulate people into doing things without providing them with all of the details or with incorrect details. Weasel words allow the speaker to sound confident without actually fully committing to their statement.
They come in many shapes and sizes, which we will discuss here:
This is the most common and most frequent usage of weasel words. Anonymous authority is a form of appeal to authority but in an obscured manner. Usually, in an appeal to authority, the authority appealed to is specified, however the weasel word equivalent it is unspecified and leans of vague phrases.
Examples of Anonymous Authority
Here are a handful of examples of anonymous authority.
- Experts say…
- Many people say…
- We know that…
- Scientists have found…
- It is said that…
- It is well known that…
There are many many more examples of this type of language and fast too many to add to this blog.
It is important to note that the above phrases are not automatically weasel words or used to mislead. Understanding the context is important. For example, “Scientists have found, from a recent 2020 study published in Nature…” This sentence clarifies where the authority lies and is therefore not anonymous.
This type of weasel word can be the most frustrating type as it deflects and the blame to another person. Fake apologies have been heard by almost everyone at some point in their life, whether it be from an acquaintance or from a business or politician.
Examples of non-apology Apologies:
- I’m sorry you feel this way
- We are sorry that this happened
Commonly used by politicians at fault to express denial without committing to a full denial. This type of weasel word is also used by individuals attempting to undermine the accusation imposed on them.
In fact, the origin of the term Non-denial Denials was credited to the Washington Post Editor, Ben Bradlee, describing the way in which the Oval Office answers questions.
Examples of Non-denial Denials
A famous example of this was Bill Clinton’s famous “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky“. Technically true but does not fully deny the entire accusation at the time.
Dumbing down is often used to circumnavigate the truth by providing irrelevant examples to try and prove a point. This is one of the more comment types of weasel words and something each of us comes across very often. Typically, dumbing down involves the use of personal anecdotes to prove or disprove something widely considered to be true.
Examples of Dumbing Down
- “If the Earth is round then why does the horizon look flat?”
- “How can global warming be true if my house was so cold yesterday…”
this is another very common form a weasel word. Sometimes used intentionally and sometimes used due to a lack of understanding of logic. Business use non-sequiturs to help sell or promote a product by making a logically invalid claim.
Examples of Non-sequitur
There are many examples of non-sequiturs but here are some common ones.
- “85% of people felt their health improve after trying our yoghurt.” – This implies that yoghurt itself is healthy for you when in actual fact it could be incredibly unhealthy.
- “People generally like walking outside. Outside has grass. Therefore we should home floors made from grass.
There are actually 6 categories of non-sequiturs, which can be found here.
This type of weasel word is used to deflect an issue away without offering anything meaningful in response. Again, this is very common in all walks of life and there are tons of examples, some of which are below.
Examples of Thought-terminating Cliches
- A team member mentions to his manager that there is a problem and is looking for advice. The manager responds “I need solutions, not problems“.
- A friend is having issues with something and is being asked about it. The friend responds “It’s all good“.
These are vague statements used to elicit emotional responses from the recipients of the statement. These types of statements hold no informational value and are only used the deliver misleading claims.
Glittering generalities are also known as glowing generalities or loaded words.
Examples of Glittering Generalities
Glittering generalities are very common in politics and some of the most famous political slogans fall into this category of weasel words:
- “Yes, we can!”
- “Vote for change”
- “We the people”
- “Reform. Repose. Revolution”
They are also common in the advertising world:
- “I’m lovin’ it”
- “Because I’m worth it”
- “Just Do it”