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Some Words About the Weasel

The Manila Times educates the Philippines on weasel words, complete with a healthy dose of their use in advertising and an interesting origin of the phrase.


 

The all-time classic advertising weasel words are, as we all know, “new” and “improved.” These words often band together to create the illusion of novelty and innovation–even if a product or service had hardly undergone any change or improvement, except perhaps for a flashier label. Here are some more of these weasel words, along with the questions that we, as consumers, should ask before giving them credence: “Kills 99.9% of microbes in seconds!” (How did they know that, and precisely how many seconds fast?) “X Ketchup, 75 varieties” (How many varieties of what?) “Enjoy extra comfort with Y!” (Why “extra” and not just the right amount?”) “For me, Z is the best!” (Why that particular endorser, and “best” compared to what?) “100% Pure!” (“Pure” in what sense?) Rare indeed is the advertising that bothers or satisfactorily answers these parenthetical questions. Like the weasel, many of them seek to give us the semblance of a perfect egg whose yolk and albumen just happen to be already being digested in its innards

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Nowhere else, however, are weasel words more commonly used than in advertising language. They are the standard come-ons and buzzwords of advertisers, marketers, and salesmen, and it is doubtful if any ad agency or copywriter worth his salt can get by very far without them. The trade term for them is “brand positioning,” a subtly emotional appeal to humanity’s innate greed and natural craving for quick gratification. Often clothed as benign half-truths and illusory figures of speech, advertising weasel words are, in fairness to advertisers, often designed not really to frontally deceive us but simply to attract our attention to the virtues of their product or service. They are socially acceptable except when they seriously breach the norms for truthfulness, and we tolerate them as a necessary evil in our strongly consumer-driven society.

The all-time classic advertising weasel words are, as we all know, “new” and “improved.” These words often band together to create the illusion of novelty and innovation–even if a product or service had hardly undergone any change or improvement, except perhaps for a flashier label. Here are some more of these weasel words, along with the questions that we, as consumers, should ask before giving them credence: “Kills 99.9% of microbes in seconds!” (How did they know that, and precisely how many seconds fast?) “X Ketchup, 75 varieties” (How many varieties of what?) “Enjoy extra comfort with Y!” (Why “extra” and not just the right amount?”) “For me, Z is the best!” (Why that particular endorser, and “best” compared to what?) “100% Pure!” (“Pure” in what sense?) Rare indeed is the advertising that bothers or satisfactorily answers these parenthetical questions. Like the weasel, many of them seek to give us the semblance of a perfect egg whose yolk and albumen just happen to be already being digested in its innards.