“to deprive (a word or phrase) of its meaning,” 1900, from weasel (n.); so used because the weasel sucks out the contents of eggs, leaving the shell intact. Both this and weasel-word are first attested in “The Stained-Glass Political Platform,” a short story by Stewart Chaplin, first printed in Century Magazine, June 1900:
“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. If you heft the egg afterward it’s as light as a feather, and not very filling when you’re hungry; but a basketful of them would make quite a show, and would bamboozle the unwary.”
Yesterday, I had the displeasure to listen to a politician — I’ll spare both our blushes — talk about the Government’s approach to COP26 (i.e. climate change) and our overseas aid budget.
Oh dear god.
All I could think was (at least she answered the questions — small mercies): weasel words.
It was hopeless, in that I thought: if this is what it’s like in Government, then we’re in even worse shape than I thought was the case.
Truth is, I didn’t expect any better. In fact, I regard all politicians (not that I know them personally) as pretty much the same; namely, long on talk, little on action; and I wouldn’t trust them as far as I could throw them — or words to that effect.
Indeed. Who does?
I have to believe someone does, even the said politician; but just imagine if you, qua business or civic leader, took your cue both stylistically and substantively from what was being said, you’d think it perfectly acceptable to dumb down the language and make out we’ve bags and bags of time to sort of the mess that’s still referred to as climate change. It’s not ‘change’ that’s the operative word but catastrophe. If you don’t believe it’s that, then what is it? Well, it sure as hell ain’t going away and neither is it something you’re going to geoengineer your way out of. It’s here to stay and if you’ve any shred of decency about you, you’d tell the voters that it’s serious and we have to get ready for the coming apocalypse.
But of course you won’t for fear you’d keep them awake all night or they’d throw you out at the next election. Fat chance of that whilst Labour is making such a hash of being a half-decent opposition party.
Anyhow, I’ll end my mini-rant by saying, as I’ve oft said:
language is everything, and it’s powerful as hell.
And whatever setting you’re in, and whatever opportunity you have to use it, make sure you do so wisely and with complete candour.