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Weasel Words Are Great

Weasel words are great. And yes, I know, I left out weasel words in making that statement.

Weasel words are words like “some” and “may.” Most clickbait authors – i.e., people on Facebook – are allergic to them, so you get fine headlines like “Conservatives hate the gays!” instead of the less-click-baitish and far-more-accurate “Some conservatives hate gays.”

Yet weasel words – sometimes seen as poor writing – aren’t poor writing at all. (See?) Weasel words allow you to describe things without being absolute about the description. They also allow you to temper a statement – which might even lead to more temperate statements, so instead of “Conservatives hate gays!” you might write “Some conservatives hate gays!” and then the ironically more-inclusive “Some people hate gays.”

Weasel words also create an allowance for error. Saying “Conservatives hate gays” means you’re liable to be countered by some conservative pointing out that he or she demonstratively does not hate homosexuals, which means your entire weasel-free claim is invalidated, since it makes no allowance for exceptions.

“Ah, but exceptions are implied,” you might be saying – but no, they’re not. Not on the internet. If you don’t provide room for the exceptions, the internet – which amplifies everything you write, since there’s nothing to temper a statement like body language or tone – makes it seem that there are no exceptions.

Nearly everyone is doggedly literal on the Internet. Acting like your audience is made entirely of people who are not doggedly literal is ill-advised.

So: Befriend the weasel words, folks. Really. They’ll help create actual dialogue, by allowing nuance.

(Reposted here from a Facebook post of mine, of all things, to preserve it.)

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