Weasels Are on the Loose

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Language/s: English
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Short Description:

Weaseling is the use of certain words to weaken a claim, so that the author can say something without actually saying it and avoid criticism

Key Concepts addressed:


Weaseling is a writing trick used in many fields, including advertising, politics, and health journalism. It’s the use of certain words (called weasel words) to weaken a claim so that the author can say something without actually saying it and be shielded from criticism. Weaseling is often misleading yet allows the author to plead innocent to any charge of dishonesty. Perhaps the all- time prizewinning example of weaseling is the junk mail advertising come-on, “You may have already won a MILLION DOLLARS!!” Technically, the statement is true since it’s physically possible that you have won a million dollars. But since the odds of your winning are often something like 1 in 50,000,000, the implication that you’re close to being a millionaire is misleading – and, of course, is meant to be. The advertiser, however, can claim that nothing untruthful was uttered; the weasel word may gets him off the hook.

Excerpt from Theodor Schick and Lewis Vaughan (2002). How to think about Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age, 3rd edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, pp222-2.

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