The Guardian • Issue #2011


  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2011

Welcome to Weasel Words! This is a new fortnightly column where we look at the ways certain words are being used in our society to push agendas. On this week’s menu we have:



Readers who remember the 1970s and 80s may remember that along with now-hilarious hair and fashion choices went an avalanche of assertiveness how-to books. Titles like When I Say No I Feel Guilty sent the message that being assertive was a desirable golden mean between being aggressive and being passive. Fashions in self-help have changed, but assertiveness is still seen as a good thing – unless its China. Any time journalists describe “an assertive China,” you can just hear the “serious journalist” frown in their voice. Is China supposed to know its place? Many in the West seem to think a country like China should just accept whatever is hurled at it without response – if you don’t expect that behaviour from the West, why is China different?



Elite is one of those funny words. If you’re a very good athlete, it’s great to be elite. If it cost around $30,000 per year to put you through high school the people paying for it are a different kind of elite (I’m not including the taxpayers who, thanks to Australia’s uniquely rob-the-poor education funding and tax systems get to give money to schools they can’t afford to set foot in). This second kind of elite provides an easy life, but you will have to work harder for mass admiration.

The other kind of “elite” is anyone who reactionary politicians and their media flunkeys disagree with. Membership of this elite does not require sporting ability or bucketloads of cash – just wanting effective action on carbon emissions or black deaths in custody is enough. It helps to live in the inner-city and drink cafe lattes – which makes this lazy use of “elite” extra funny when people who live in the country reveal that they too don’t want climate change, forcing News Corp and the National Party to enlarge their definition of “inner-city elites.”

Really you can live anywhere and be the sort of “elite” that annoys NewsCorp. Just ask Lachlan Murdoch (net worth reportedly $29 million), who is hopping mad that “media elites” are telling ordinary blokes like him what to do. The nerve.



Readers will think: “hang on, I know what silenced means.” That’s right, it means that something which was making any kind of sound has stopped making that sound. Maybe the kids were talking loudly and you gave them sandwiches, put Bluey on the TV to silence them. Perhaps you turned someone’s microphone off during a meeting. They’re now silenced.

However, the “silencing” we hear about in the media is very noisily from the person allegedly being silenced. Really it means that the person doesn’t like being criticised. Ex-PM Scott Morrison (a lovely thing to call him) popped a candidate into the seat of Warringah during the last election, one Katherine Deves, who was only known for really, really disliking trans people. By all accounts, the plan was for Deves to get a lot of attention across the nation leading to transphobes nationwide voting for their local Liberal candidate. This didn’t work, but not before Deves managed to tell the country that she was being silenced – on TV, on the front page of assorted newspapers, you name it. People who are silenced the way Deves was are deafening for the rest of us!

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