On Weasel Words

Some speeches deliberately contain so many weasel words the curious recipient can be left in doubt as to the sincerity and content of the speaker’s intent.

These are words like about, form (a committee to), consider, future, discuss, and later. Phrases like “stand ready to” also count.

Test your awareness of this technique on the following quotes. I’ll give my count at the end of each. All are from the Business section of the Toronto Star, September 9. Disclosure: Other than reading it, I have no interest in the Star or its owners or stock or anything more or less connected to it (4).

… policy makers will discuss the tools they could use to boost the recovery this month and stand ready to use them if necessary. (7?)  This from Ben Bernanke.

… and certain of its officers and directors “appear to have misrepresented some of its revenue and/or exaggerated some of it timber holdings” in filed documents. (5+?) This on Sino-Forest.

Among other things, I’m responsible for tariffs and sometimes people in the retail business blame tariffs and so on and I want to see, I want to know what the facts are, … I’m looking forward to the senate committee … reporting back on what the facts are and then we’ll take whatever steps we’ll take. ( 6 or 7?) This from Jim Flaherty.

I realize that being a politician is sometimes like being an auctioneer in that silence is not allowed, you must fill all the airtime. Auctioneers actually have a nonsense phrase they use when they have nothing to say, like b’dee, b’dee, b’dee. I actually thought I was going deaf until my son kindly pointed this practice out.

You may have thought you were going fuzzy while reading or hearing speeches like those gently mocked above. You’re not. It’s noise added to use up the communication time or column lengths.

Like me at the auction, you may think you’ve missed something, but the objective is to sell you something with a communication you didn’t quite get.

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