Language

HOW WE SAY, WHAT WE SAY.

What we have to say may be important, but the words we choose to say it can be equally important. Words have tremendous persuasive power or power to express and elicit images, feelings and emotional associations.

Weaselers are linguistic methods of hedging a bet. When inserted into a claim they help protect it from criticism by watering it down somewhat, weakening it, and giving the claim’s author a way out in case the claim is challenged. So, what a claim assents, a weaseler either minimize or takes away entirely.

Without doubt you’re heard the words “up to” used as a weaselers a thousand times, especially in advertising. For example, “lose up to ten dollars a week”. This guarantees nothing. Words such as “perhaps”, “possibly”, “maybe”, and “may be”, among others –can be used to produced innuendo, to plant a suggestion without actually making a claim that a person can be held to. We can suggest that a Peter is a liar without actually saying so. For instance; “Peter is a liar”, works nicely.

Not every use of words and phrases like these is a weaseling one, of course. Words that can weasel can also bring very important qualifications to bear on a claim. The very same word that weasels is one context may not weasels at another. For example, a detective who is considered all the possible angles on a crime and who has just heard Jesse’s account of events may say to an associate “of course, it is possible that Peter is lying,” this need not be case of weaseling. The detective may simply be exercising due care. Other words and phrases that are sometimes used to weasel can be also used legitimately. Qualifying phrases such as “it is arguable that”, “it may well be that”, and so on have at least as many appropriate uses as weaseling ones. Others, such as “some would say that”, are likely to be weaseling more than often than not, but even they can serve an honest purpose in the right context. Our warning, then, is to be watchful when qualifying phrases turn up. Is the speaker or writer adding a reasonable qualification, insinuating a bit of innuendo, or preparing a way out? We can only warn; you need to assess the speaker the context, and the subject to establish the grounds for the right judgment.

 

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