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7 Types of Weasel Words

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Weasel words are phrases that are designed to sound authoritative or meaningful that lack content and true meaning. These are typically used to persuade without evidence, inform without information or to promise without commitment. The following are common types of weasel words.

Anonymous Authority

An argument that tries to sound authoritative without any actual evidence or statement by an actual authority. Such as:
Many people say ...
It is often claimed ...
A growing body of evidence...
Critics point out...
There is evidence that...
Economists say ...
Technologists will tell you that ...
Millennials think that ...
Researchers have found ...
Scientists say ...
The Japanese believe ...
Many Americans feel ...
Customers are always telling us ...
We are often told ...
We are a leading provider of...
We are a well known ...
I am a thought leader who ...
People say I am ...
The statements above aren't necessarily weasel words if the author is using them for color and goes on to provide evidence or specific information. For example, "A growing body of evidence indicates .... a 2018 University of Chicago study found ...."

Glittering Generality

Using emotional language to avoid saying anything informative or concrete. For example, a firm that greenwashes its commitment to sustainability with phrases such as "we care about the environment" without stating any actual steps that are taken to improve anything for the environment or communities.

Non-apology Apology

An apology designed to imply that you did nothing wrong. For example, "we are sorry that this happened to you" or "we are sorry that you feel this way."

Non-denial Denial

A statement that conveys a sense of denial without actually denying anything. For example, a bicycle helmet company that fails a standard safety test may reply "we take safety seriously" or "safety is at the heart of everything we do ..." without actually saying their helmets are safe to use.

Dumbing Down

Using evidence that is meaningless relative to the issue at hand. For example, using a personal experience that is statistically insignificant to refute extensive evidence. For example, "if global warning exists, why did I spend all morning shoveling snow yesterday?"

Thought-Terminating Cliche

The use of cliche to avoid providing any actual information. For example, a highly paid information security consultant is asked how to respond to a data breach and they respond in an email "we need to think outside the box on this one to find a robust solution that is win-win."

Non Sequitur

Implying a logical conclusion based on invalid logic. For example, "many of our customers say they feel healthier when they drink our coffee." Here it is implied that there is evidence that the product is healthy with a statement that contains both an anonymous authority of "many of our customers" with the invalid logical inference that the coffee is the cause of "feeling healthy."

Origin of the Phrase

Weasel has long been slang for a dishonest person. This extends from the animal's prowess, intelligence and trickiness in attacking farm animals, particularly chickens. William Shakespeare uses the word weasel in this way several times in his works such as "Methinks it is like a weasel" in Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2.
The term weasel words first appeared in print in a 1900 article by Stewart Chaplin in The Century Illustrated Magazine entitled "Stained Glass Political Platform." The relevant passage reads "Why, weasel words are words that suck all the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks an egg and leaves the shell."
Theodore Roosevelt claimed to have coined the phrase weasel words in 1879. This claim was documented in a September 1916 New York Times article.
Overview: Weasel Words
Phrases that are designed to sound authoritative or meaningful that lack content and true meaning.
Related Concepts


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Ambiguity Effect
Active Silence
Anecdotal Evidence
Agree To Disagree
Building Trust
Call To Action
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Creative Tension
Charismatic Authority
Cruel Wit
Charm Offensive
Cultural Capital
Choice Architecture
Devils Advocate
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Consensus Building
Expectation Setting
Constructive Criticism
Eye Contact
Heliotropic Effect
Loaded Language
Loaded Question
Door In The Face
Peak-End Rule
Plain Language
Ethos Pathos & Logos
Rhetorical Device
Social Influence
Social Perception
False Dilemma
Social Proof
Foot In The Door
Informal Authority
Weasel Words
Information Cascade
Inside Jokes
Intrinsic Reward
Logical Argument
Managing Up
Name Dropping
Paradox Of Choice
Political Capital
Red Herring
Rhetorical Question
Rule Of Three
Self Monitoring
Small Talk
Social Tension
Straw Man
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Pei, Mario. "Weasel Words: The Art of Saying What You Don't Mean." 1978.
Barker, P., and P. Buchanan‐Barker. "Post‐psychiatry: good ideas, bad language and getting out of the box." Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing 13.5 (2006): 619-625.
Horlacher, Friedrich W. "The Language of Late Nineteenth-Century American Expansionism." An American Empire: Expansionist Cultures and Policies 1917 (1881): 31-49.


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