Weasel Words

While reading about Aspect-Oriented Programming on Wikipedia, I came across an interesting term toward the end of the article: weasel words. Being someone who just likes word plays such as this, I decided to visit the link.

Wikipedia:Avoid weasel words - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

"Weasel words are words or phrases that seemingly support statements without attributing opinions to verifiable sources. Weasel words give the force of authority to a statement without letting the reader decide if the source of the opinion is reliable. If a statement can't stand on its own without weasel words, it lacks neutral point of view; either a source for the statement should be found, or the statement should be removed."

What is interesting is the list of examples of is that most of us actually use such innocuous phrases when we are trying to write objective and unbiased articles. I know that I have been guilty of phrases such as "clearly...", "it is believed that...", "experts say...".

However, while avoiding weasel words are important, I think that sometimes they are a good addition to an article. It is almost impossible to be unbiased when you are writing an article. Usually you write an article because you have some strong opinions on it. Thus, your opinion is going to be reflected in that article. Indeed, that is what makes some articles better to read than others. Your tone of voice and the choice of words used speaks to the reader and draws him or her into the writing.

Of course, regardless of whether we are writing for an encyclopedia or for our web blog, we should always be careful of weasel words. Using too many of them makes for unclear articles that are hard to follow. In fact, some of the weasel words listed in the article are so common that we even forget that we are using one. Even readers might easily gloss over those words as mere phrases that join sentence together (there must be a term for these kind of words but I can't seem to remember it). On the other hand, trying to stay away from them also makes for articles that are too dry and boring to read. A proper balance is hard to achieve but as long as you are trying to be unpretentious in your writing then it should work out well.

comments powered by Disqus