“The finest language is mostly made up of simple, unimposing words.” George Eliot
And yet, we are subjected to weasel words every day. Weasel words are a way of messing with language to avoid saying the bleeding obvious. They are generally used to avoid getting into trouble, or to convince people that something is true when it isn’t. This is an extension on our recent discussion of using plain English, but weasel words are more inclined to come with a sinister undertone.
The master of shining a light on weasel words is the great Don Watson. You can check out his excellent books on the subject here.
The news over the past couple of weeks has been teeming with weasel words. They have been used to particular effect to peddle sexism and – yes, I’ll say it – misogyny. The great thing about using weasel words is that, when people are offended, the perpetrator can throw up their hands and suggest you misunderstood/can’t take a joke/are overreacting.
Check out John Birmingham’s fantastic rant on the subject here.
A few insidious examples of sexism dressed up in weasel words recently:
Nigella Lawson’s husband Charles Saatchi, who claimed they were just having a “playful tiff” when he strangled her in public. I don’t think I’ll invite him round for a friendly game of Monopoly.
“It’s not me saying it. It’s what people say!” Former radio douche Howard Sattler, now sadly unemployed, who thought it was clever or funny to ask the Prime Minister of his country if her partner was gay and her relationship was a sham because he couldn’t think of any policy questions to ask in the lead up to an election. But not because he wanted to know, you understand, so that’s okay.
I won’t go on about the Liberal Party fundraiser menu debacle (Tracey Spicer covered it all so well already), but Mal Brough’s response to the whole thing was to say that the hilarious restaurant owner who has since fallen on the Liberal Party sword for the offence, “didn’t mean any harm”. Really? What did he mean?
Words are powerful. Words are not harmless.
Consider your words carefully and say what you mean. If you want to disrespect women, have the kahunas to say that you think we are worth less than you. That our physical attributes should be open to your ridicule. That our ideas, our work and our contributions are not what matters. That you think it’s funny to laugh at, and encourage, a culture that treats us as objects.
Or you could shut up.
Honourable mention in the weasel words category – but in a pure marketing capacity – this week goes to CEO of the Australasian Bottled Water Institute (yes, it’s a real thing), Geoff Parker, who told the Sydney Morning Herald, “People willingly pay for the convenience of a zero-kilojoule hydration option when they’re out and about.” Right, because paying for 2000 times the going rate for tap water would be a rip off.
What do we think? Did I miss any good examples of weasel words this week? Or do I need to get a sense of humour?