January 30, 2013

Weasel Words


The weasel, charming animal that it is, attacks eggs in bird
nests using a very particular method: it pierces them and
sucks them, then leaves them there. The mama bird thinks
she sees her egg, but it is only the shell emptied of its precious
contents.

Weasel words do the same thing, but with propositions.
Thus, one can be under the impression that a statement
is full of rich content, but the presence of a little word has
emptied it of substance.

Advertising relies on this strategy often; an attentive observer
will find a great number of incidences. Who hasn't received
an envelope marked, "You could have won $1,000,000"?
Here are a few other examples:
A product can produce such and such effect.
A product diminishes or augments something up to
such and such level.
A product helps to . . .
A product contributes to . . .
A product is a component of . . .
A product makes you feel like . . .
A product is like . . .
A product is in some ways . . .
Some researchers say that . . .
Research suggests that . . .
Research tends to demonstrate . . .
It is claimed that . . .
A product is almost . . .
Advertising, however, is hardly the only domain in
which these weasel words are used. A critical thinker has
to know how to recognize them right away in order not to
misinterpret the message. At the same time, one must remember
that, in certain cases, it is important to nuance
one's thinking. But that should not be confused with using
weasel words in a conscious effort to deceive or mystify.

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