Weasel Words – Writing and Speaking Better

cropped-laughing-owlOn Friday, an email crossed my inbox regarding how to write better and weasel words.  The term “weasel words” first appeared in a short story by author Stewart Chaplin titled “Stained Glass Political Platform,” published in The Century Magazine June 1900.  As a term, weasel words were popularized in a 1916 speech by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.  I often write about plastic words being stretched, twisted, and molded to fit situations and distorted and disconnected from their accepted definitions, so I figured it was time to discuss weasel words.

Weasel Words

All clipart on this site has | Clipart Panda - Free Clipart ImagesWeasels words are vague qualifiers like “generally,” “most,” and “probably” that weaken your writing and speaking, reflecting a weak mind and poor logic. Speakers and writers use weasel words to avoid making direct statements, to mystify, and use vocabulary to play linguistic tricks upon the audience.  I heard a joke about weasel words and politicians:

How do you know a politician is lying?
They are speaking
!”

How often have you heard a speaker generalize or witnessed a writer probablize and thought, “How does the writer know?”  Check the weasel words.  Since weasel words have been around for so long, many speechwriters and editors know these tricks and constantly edit them.  But, when you can catch the speaker or author in candid moments, that is when you see just how weaselly they are about the facts and their logical conclusions.Scouring the bowels of the internet | Weasel Zippers | Cartoon jokes, Political cartoons ...

Consider for a moment the following three reasons why weasel words are employed.  When considering them, remember when you have weaseled on your speeches or writing, and self-evaluate to improve:

      • Uncertainty: You use weasels when you’re confused about your point, or you’re not sure what you want to write. Ambiguous terms allow you to equivocate. The result is you get something on paper, but it is cloudy.
      • Fear: You use weasels when afraid of making a bold statement. You may know what you want to write but don’t have the depth. These words give you an out.
      • Deniability: You use weasels to protect yourself or dodge taking a stand. If you don’t say anything firm, the thinking goes, you cannot be wrong.

As I have been writing on this topic, I have considered my writing and speaking habits and improved self-editing.  I am not afraid, uncertain, or need deniability, but I desire to assert more confidently, speak and write more authoritatively, and support others through language.  Hence, the need to understand language and improve how I speak and write."Weasel While You Work" on Vimeo

Examples of Weasel Words

Frankly, I was surprised at some of the weasel words that made the various lists of weasel words found across the Internet.  Some weasel words are absolute and are fully supported, others might be conditional weasel words based upon the conversation, and others might not be weasel words at all.  Now, out of all that blathering about weasel words, which would you edit as weaselly statements?  Yes, I wrote that on purpose!

Well

Experts said Experts have claimed Experts insist
Research proves Research shows Research concludes Researchers claim
Often Probably Possibly Some
Many Could be With all due respect Usually
Basically Somehow Virtually Just

Once identified, what does a person do?  Writers have it easier, for they can revise and edit.5 Tall Tales from 1 Small Mind | Science and Dogs

An author can delete the weasel word following the pattern below:

Read the resulting statement to see if it works.

      • If the message without weasels is confusing …
        Get clarity with your ideas. Determine what you want to say and then say it!
      • If the statement without weasels is too bold …
        Do you have the authority to make this statement; yes, leave it alone. No, quote the authoritarian, and use a reference.
      • If the resulting statement without weasels has no substance …
        Ask yourself whether or not you have something to say. If not, delete the sentence. If so, see the first bullet point again, clarify your ideas, and keep editing.

Speaking and eliminating weasel words requires planning.  You have to prepare what you want to say carefully, plan your audience, prepare and practice delivering your points, and repeat until it feels comfortable.  Speaking requires remaining consciously aware, listening to yourself, listening to questions, and making choices.  Many choices will be made in the preparation and planning stages, and these planning sessions preparing to speak remain critical to mentally speaking to convince.AMID BACKLASH CORRUPT & STUPID DEMOCRATS QUICKLY SWITCH FROM 'DEFUND' TO 'REFUND' THE POLICE ...

However, experience has proven that writing rules work well with speaking, in preparing and planning the message.

Speak aloud the statement to see if it works.

      • If the message without weasels is confusing …
        Get clarity with your ideas. Determine what you want to say and then say it!
      • If the statement without weasels is too bold …
        Do you have the authority to make this statement; yes, leave it alone. No, quote the authoritarian, and use a reference.
      • If the resulting statement without weasels has no substance …
        Ask yourself whether or not you have something to say. If not, delete the sentence. If so, see the first bullet point again, clarify your ideas, and keep editing.

Having spoken publicly and talked to other speakers, it was interesting to see those who spoke well and admitted to speaking into a mirror and those who spoke okay and did not practice the speech verbally.  I learned this data point, the Rule of 7-P’s came forcibly to mind, “Proper, Prior, Planning, Prevents, Purely, Poor, Performance.”  Practice is part of properly planning to avoid poor performances.

Knowledge Check!Regardless of delivery through speaking or writing, create the time to edit.  Create the time to plan and prepare, rehearse, and carefully edit to communicate powerfully.  Stop stooping to being a weasel; you are better than that and deserve to allow yourself the ability to achieve through communicating ideas more clearly and powerfully!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Let’s Stop Being Afraid of Language – Communication and Freedom Lessons From Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Broken RobotCommunication presentation is the careful and concise logic behind selecting words to communicate an idea—the rules of grammar and punctuation aid in communicating correctly to enhance the sense and communicate the vision.  Language is a grand and glorious tool for sharing ideas, empowering motivation, and building ideas into action items.  Yet, for some reason, words have become cheapened by political positions, and I would see this trend cease forthwith.  Presenting the first and second principles of language and communication:

A word is not a crystal, transparent and unchanged; it is the skin of a living thought and may vary greatly in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The best of a book is not the thought which it contains, but the thought which it suggests; just as the charm of music dwells not in the tones but in the echoes of our hearts.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Consider two emails; the content is identical, the first is titled:

How To Learn and Master Things Faster – Five Tips

The second email was received later in the day and is titled:

How To Learn and Excel At Things Faster – Five Tips

The second email also came with an apology:

Apologies for churn. The original email today used a non-inclusive word in the header. We apologize for this error and are re-sending with the corrected content.

The content of the email did not change at all, only the titles changed, and the apology suggests that there is a “non-inclusive” word in the original title.  Some people will erroneously claim that the term master is automatically a negative term and base that assumption upon slavery, especially with Juneteenth celebrations abounding this weekend.  Except, master and mastery are not negative terms.

Knowledge Check!As a point of reference, a male teacher is a master.  There are master degrees; master also appears in religious texts as an honorific.  A master can be a highly accomplished person in a trade or craft, or a role model from history.  One having authority over another to force compulsion is much lower in the definition lists.  Hence, the wordsmithing for “inclusion” is a myth; yet the fear of potentially appearing to be exclusive forced the title change in this email and was 100% wrong!

We must never forget the following:

My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. [emphasis mine].

The fear of thought police drives a lot of other problems in society.  Choose the wrong word on an advertisement, and college children (thought terrorists) have been known to storm the business, ruin patronage, anger the entire community, and force the business closure.  All because they presume the mantle of “Master of Thought Police.”  Who gave them this authority?  Where are their charter, endowment, and power originating from?  Who granted permission; this last one is easy; the license to become a terrorist was self-assumed!  Necessitating the following principle:

The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily also deprives others of the right to listen to those views.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.Social Justice Warrior

Please note, I am not against wordsmithing to increase the potential power of communication to reach an audience.  Nor am I against the careful selection of words to provide clear context and empower a collective message through editing.  I will certainly not be upset because someone chooses one word in a message that I might not have used had I been in their shoes.  Why have we, the adults in society, allowed the children in the community to act like spoiled brats and create fear and division over word selection and placement in a message?

The following two quotes contain more than simple support for the principles of communicating but reflect how those principles of freedom and communication operate in society.

If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principle of free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Certitude leads to violence. This is a proposition that has an easy application and a difficult one. The easy application is to ideologues, dogmatists, and bullies–people who think that their rightness justifies them in imposing on anyone who does not happen to subscribe to their particular ideology, dogma, or notion of turf. If the conviction of rightness is powerful enough, resistance to it will be met, sooner or later by force. There are people like this in every sphere of life, and it is natural to feel that the world would be a better place without them!” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. [emphasis mine]

QuestionIs the fear of the mob so significant that even without a mob, fear is spread, risks must be avoided proactively, and thoughts curtailed?  I say NO!  I defy the entire argument that word selection can cause exclusion.  Why; because understanding is a choice!  The only person who can choose to be insulted over a word is you!  You own the emotions of the moment, and your emotional choices are not my concern!  Do we understand this concept?

Audience selection is the first job in designing communication.  Identifying the primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences is the job of the communication initiator.  After drafting that message and sending the ideas out, the audience is left to choose what they do moving forward.  How you choose is your power, and I am not responsible for your choices.  The communication initiator is not accountable for your preferences and selections.

Andragogy - LEARNBut what about those messages specifically designed to inflame, insult, denigrate, and deride?  What changed?  Nothing!  The communication initiator desired to rile the primary audience, deny them this power over you, choose different emotions, and retain the moral high ground.  The best response to a communication initiator who wants to rule your emotions is to deny them that power, and then that person goes away as irrelevant.

Opposing thoughts expand our minds with both experience and the force to make a decision.  If all we ever experienced were ideas and thoughts we agreed with, change, growth, opinion, all the spice of life would be lost.  Worse, envy would overcome logic, and the world would undoubtedly be a more violent place as a result.

I have no respect for the passion of equality, which seems to me merely idealizing envy – I don’t disparage envy, but I don’t accept it as legitimately my master.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.Social Justice Warrior 3

Is the ability to choose emotional reasoning supported sufficiently to empower you?  One of the great tragedies of life, since the 1960s, has been the call for “equality” when the worship of envy was the actual message.  Worse, these ideas have been planted and carefully tended, and the fruit is poison.  When I moved to the western US as a kid, I was introduced to cedar trees for the first time.  A cedar tree is the place of choice for pregnant animals to have their offspring, as the cedar slowly transforms the ground under it into a sterile environment.  The air is affected, the earth is involved, and the grove of cedar trees holds tremendous power for generations inside the forest of cedar trees.  The cedar tree is an excellent example of the power of envy worship.  Call envy equality if you prefer, but the fruit will kill and poison the minds of those choosing to plant the seeds for generations.

Taking the concepts into the final thought:

Liberty is often a heavy burden on a man. It involves the necessity for perpetual choice, which is the kind of labor men have always dreaded.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. [emphasis mine].

Calvin & Hobbes - EnmityLike the expanded mind, choice leads to decisions, decision spurs action, and action will result in consequences.  How you perceive the effects will drive the next series of choices, decisions, activities, and consequences.  Liberty and freedom allow us the glory and the horror of choice and consequence.  Thus, I plead with you, stop allowing your emotional decisions to be controlled by others!  Cease the turmoil over language, speak simply, communicate clearly, and then rest knowing you have not intentionally caused harm.  The audience is left to choose, and if they choose to be offended, those are not your consequences to suffer!

Reason may be the lever, but sentiment gives you the fulcrum and the place to stand on if you want to move the world.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Employee Practices – Or the Trouble Labor Unions Cause Part 1

Disclaimer:  For the record, this author is not anti-union.  I am anti-violence when used as the tool of ideological individuals to destroy private property, intimidate, threaten, and pressure as negotiating tactics.  I do not support individuals who intentionally work slow or damage machinery as a labor-negotiating ploy.  I do support accountability, responsibility, and reasoned negotiation by impassioned people to correct faults, improve safety, and raise the bar of excellence.  I fully support groups of people combining together to focus effort upon a problem and raise awareness in the public eye.  The moment this group of people become violent, raise their voices or fists in anger, and try to force someone else to do what they want or steal money or other resources for personal gain, the group of people have crossed the line and become a force not supported or worthy continued sustenance.  Thus, I am not anti-union; it is important to note this clearly in the beginning as many people have mistaken my stand on unions to be anti-union when this is inherently false.

To understand unions in the modern world of labor relations, solid historical perspective is required.  With the beginning of the industrial revolution, labor unions began forming.  The intent was to improve working conditions, standardize working hours, and reduce accidents.  With technology advances in the beginning of the industrial revolution, maiming, blindness, lung conditions, and many other machinery caused problems were horrific.  The use of children in labor camps, on-board ships, and in mills was a horrendous injustice, completely wrong, and desperately needed correction.

Some small local or geographically/industrially specific unions had organized prior to the 1880’s.  These unions were violent in nature, full of angry people, who felt justified in harming those running the large manufacturing plants where horrific injuries occurred with no chance for the common worker to improve working conditions.  While raising awareness, these violent unions also harmed their cause with violence thus defeating their purpose without changing anything.

Unions have been steeped in communism theology and continue this theology to this day.  The principles of labor for the worker come directly from the writings of Karl Marx and the ‘Communist Manifesto.’  The first large-scale attempt at unionizing workers to improve conditions on a national scale in America is found in the Knights of Labor.  .  The Knights of Labor rejected socialism, communism, and radicalism.  This attempt fails for a lot of reasons, mainly the lack of unified structure and political pressures.  Society was not ready to change in the 1880’s; so labor unions in the US changed tactics, leaders, and aims; many of the Knights of Labor who eschewed American ideals are found in and form the bulwark of the change in unionism tactics..

From this rebirth come the first recognized labor unions formed by Samuel Gompers.  Samuel Gompers is the titleholder for longest serving president in the American Federation of Labor (AFL) now known as the AFL-CIO.  Samuel Gompers is a radical socialist bent on forcing through an ideological agenda.  Between 1880 and 1940, several things occurred:  society shifts where child labor is concerned, violence in union strikes and boycotts catches national attention, and Gompers concludes a national organization of labor into small local bodies electing labor friendly politicians into the political landscape.  With the election of President Wilson, Gompers becomes a household name outside of union families, and WWI sees a growth in both union membership and union influence in all political forums throughout the US.

Another aspect to the emergence of labor unions and power was found in their cozy relationship with organized crime.  Prohibition brought to the US powerful families of criminals dedicated to smuggling alcohol and other illegal products.  These families brought organization, power, and violence.  The unions brought forced labor dues, manpower, and energy; and the meeting of money and organization fostered a relationship of blood, violence, and scare tactics that continue unabated today.  It is important to note that violence, strikes, boycotts, and the friendly relationship between labor unions and organized crime has only increased with time, not decreased.  FBI reports continue to document the connection between organized crime, mafia, and labor unions.  From Samuel Gompers to Richard Trumka, current president of the AFL-CIO, violently settling grudges, attacking innocent people to force union membership, and threatening business owners and destroying business property to force the adoption of a union or remain union continues.

Gompers set the standard for a two-pronged attack on business: (1) violently striking employees limiting production and breaking equipment and (2) employing the courts to harass, intimidate, and harangue business owners and individual employees.  The reason for the attack mattered not and someone else always paid the cost.  The attacks worked due to a mixture of empathy and sympathy combined with a desire for power and future election possibilities.  This pattern of attacking remains effective for the same reasons.  Politicians, hell bent on personal power with a desire to reign as an American king, cozy up to the union plate of money and political favors.

The IRS granted employers the ‘Right to Control.’  Labor unions stepped in and demanded the ‘Right to Control,’ and the employee was left in the lurch with no rights, no liberty, and no way out.  A simple process exists when employees desire union membership, while complicated in legal maneuvering; the process is fairly straightforward and simple. When labor union members wish to end their union membership, the process is through a court system of union-biased laws and union inflicted violence.  Federal Law becomes convoluted and myopic regarding union labor laws.  For example, “Closed Shops” might be against the law, but the practice remains strong.  In a “Closed Shop,” every job must be a union job and membership is prerequisite to employment.  If a union member should discontinue his membership in the union, the union member loses his job, “Closed Shop.”  Officially, this is a practice that has been stopped, but state and federal law is union-biased, so the practice simply shifts to under the table.  “Open Shops” come in two varieties, “Agency” and “Free Rider.”  These shops are anything but “Open.”

“Agency Shops” are businesses where a majority of the employees have elected for union membership and even non-union members are forced to pay union dues.  These non-union dues payers have no voice in the union, no rights in the union, but have forced union representation, supposedly, if trouble arises.  In theory this works; in action many non-union forced dues payers are second-class citizens in these “Open Shops,” and the union could care less provided the money continues to roll in from forced dues.  “Free Rider Shops,” are exactly the same thing, only, the labor union cannot force non-union members to pay dues for union coverage.  The union coercion of the decision makers and of other employees to entice them into a union in “Free Rider Shops” is well documented.  Tire slashing, late-night threatening phone calls, intimidation, and threats of physical harm are also well-documented problems in “Free Rider Shops.”

The problem inevitably is money.  According to the union, if the employee wants union protection, the employee will pay for it.  The average union labor dues is around $400 annually, this is before the forced payment of healthcare cost, retirement, etc.  This number does not include the cost of operation the employer must pay to support the union.  Training costs are not included in the operating cost nor reflected in the dues cost.  All these variables are not fixed and add to the overall cost of unions. Adding in the intimidation factor, loss due to theft and breakage, loss due to strikes, etc., the difficulties unions cause and the overall cost to society to support unions is well past the unsustainable point.  More on the general overall costs of unions can be found here.

The fees involved in discontinuing membership in a union are hidden deep in the miasmic swamp of mouse print, but since the union member is technically given this information, the fees are legal.  The process usually requires the employee to hire a lawyer who specializes in contracts.  The union, who will employ contract and litigation lawyers, does not cover their own legal fees and passes them on to the union member in an effort to keep the dues money coming in.  Many people with similar horror stories, who relate the process of discontinuing membership in a union, can be located through an easy Google Search.  Discontinuing a union membership can become more difficult than a space shuttle launch, and the costs are always borne by the individual wanting to leave the labor union.

This remains America, the land of the longest living constitution in recorded history, yet the freedom ending labor unions are allowed to thrive due to the power of money in politics, the power of organized crime, and the thrust and parry of politicians and judges too concerned with continuing power perks to right the wrong.

Fear keeps unions living, fear of being a victim and fear of becoming a victim.  Fear of loss, fear of failure, fear to risk, all these and more drive the union machine.  Yet, the birth of freedom in a worker’s heart makes courage overpower fear.  The ability to work in partnership with a company breeds new freedoms, powers, and strength.  Fear is destroyed courage, confidence, and freedom.

The problems with unions can be eradicated by freeing the worker, by placing the ‘Right to Control’ back into the hands of the individual worker.  The saying went abroad that Michigan would become a ‘Right to Work State’ only when the fires of the sun cooled.  Yet, the impossible has occurred and Michigan is now a ‘Right to Work State.’  The impossible does occur.  Free the worker.  Shift the employment paradigm.  Let this process to truly ‘Free the Worker’ begin by removing the chains of forced ‘employee’ by allowing these workers to be contractors, consultants, and controllers of their own individual destinies.

© 2012 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved