Thursday, September 9, 2010

Inverse weasel words

A weasel word appears to say something but says nothing. An inverse weasel word* appears to say nothing but says something – usually something false.

For example, on July 21, 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama said “the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes,” as he signed a bill into law. The inverse weasel word here is “asked.”

The press, in its usual stupor, missed it. Jeff Snyder, an alert writer, spotted it and pointed it out; he wrote:

“We will never be asked again to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes? Again? Hey Congress and President, here’s a dose of truth for you! We weren’t asked to bail out Wall Street the first time! There was absolutely nothing voluntary about it…. You and the private banking cartel known as the Federal Reserve just bailed it out.… the American public, which wasn’t asked but which freely volunteered its opinions anyway, disapproved of the bailouts about 99 to 1.”

The Takeaway: If you intend to write clearly, do not mimic politicians. In particular, do not use weasel words or inverse weasel words.

See disclaimer.

*A phrase I hereby coin.

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