Weasel Words

[renamed to VagueWords because WeaselWords was, inadvertently, objectionable]

Not connected to the WeaselPatrol?, I gather.

"...after Shakespeare's 'I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel suck eggs' (As You Like It, II,5),...As a weasel is alleged to be able to empty an egg without leaving a visible sign, so can these words deprive of content any term to which they are prefixed while seemingly leaving them untouched." F.A.Hayek, The Fatal Conceit.

A Mario Pei wrote 'Weasel Words: The Art of Saying What You Don't Mean (1978). He credits Theodore Roosevelt with coining the term.

Hayek considers the grandaddy of all weasel words to be 'social', and in his above book he lists over 160 nouns that are commonly qualified by the adjective 'social'

From WeasleWords...

AlistairCockburn once wrote on the XP mailing list that XP would "reduce the project paperwork to nearly nothing." A couple of people got disturbed by that blatant statement. One offered "reduce the project paperwork overhead to nearly nothing." In response to a fair question as to what documentation would be left at the end of an XP project, it was put forth that one should make good use of the test run log. These two responses Alistair considered pussyfooting and using weasel wording. He offered then, and offers still, that only the story cards and iteration plan on the board are part of the XP paperwork. He said, "I stand by my original statement. I thinks that if KentBeck could think of ways to reduce the paperwork to absolutely nothing and still get the communication alive and code out, he'd probably do that. So "nearly nothing" fits, in my view."

In a later mail Kent wrote: "I believe that preparing for the "next game" by writing documents is an illusion, a cargo cult. I assume that writing documents to enable maintenance is against the laws of nature, that the documents are never there." This suggests Alistair had it about right for at least one major XP proponent.

XP is extreme. Descriptions of it are extreme. Extreme statements often rile people up or scare them off before they have really taken the time to understand the subject.

On the other hand watering the statements down mean that we are probably not actually describing XP (see PrettyAdventuresomeProgramming)

If you do need to expand on statements then remember:


Indeed, to Tom's question: Is there a less combative way of phrasing this, so listeners don't go off half cocked - - - WITHOUT resorting to lies, weasel words, misrepresentation or lawyerese word wrangling? --AlistairCockburn

TopMind is WeaselWords because it implies a IntellectualRigour when the reality is CargoCult thinking.

see also: VagueWords for a similar, though different issue.

Shouldn't that be WeaselWords... I'm not entirely sure that being careful in how you say something is necessarily weasly. If you're being careful in how you say something in order to confuse, mis-represent, or exaggerate, I'd say that's weasly. If you're being careful in how you say something in order to improve clarity based on the particular audience you're speaking to, I don't see a problem. Accurate but less emotionally charged statements also seem fine since I'm assuming a continuing conversation will weed out any misunderstandings. The key is to make sure that conversation can take place. --JasonYip

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