The Guardian • Issue #2013


  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2013
Weasel Words heading

Is “flexibility” a good thing? What are your “values”? Is that government a “regime”? Well it depends on who you ask in this fortnight’s edition of Weasel Words!



When it’s not being a weasel word, flexibility is a very good thing indeed. A useful property of wiring, car panels, cats, and contortionists. With people, it can be a good thing to be flexible. For example, if you’re planning a dinner, it’s nice to hear someone tell you that they’re flexible because it means that the time and the food is up to you. Result!

Flexibility can be a good thing at work, too – it’s great when someone you’re working with can do a variety of things to get the job done.

Used by employer groups, however, “flexibility” means lower wages, more work, more unpaid overtime, and sometimes even less safety – all things which – by some strange coincidence! –   mean more profits for employers. The flexibility bosses ask for only ever goes one way.



“Values” is kind of a neutral term, meaning simply things that are important to a person or a group. We can say of someone that “accuracy is one of her values.” We could say “politeness is a value in Japan,” for example.

One thing a lot of weasel words have in common is acting as a way to say something without saying it out loud, sometimes called a “dog whistle.” The term “values” does this when used in a weasley way. We need only remember when former Prime Minister John Howard spoke of “private school values”, saving himself the bother of admitting that he was on the side of parents who didn’t want their kids mixing with migrants and/or working people.

Speaking of migrants, the Liberals did a lot of public fretting about them fitting in with “our values.”

During the dog-whistle-happy Howard years, there were some efforts to specify “Australian values,” in an attempt to get more mileage out of being tough on non-Anglo Aussies. Values proposed back then included  “mateship” and “democracy” as though nobody in another country has ever stood by their friends or wanted a say in running the place where they live.



An oldie but a goodie, a regime is simply a government of which you disapprove – That’s all! The shape or size of the government doesn’t really matter, nor does how they got into power; if the media outlet talking about them disapproves, they’re a regime. Keen observers will have noticed that the Chinese government has gone from regime to government to regime again, depending on how Washington, Canberra, and NewsCorp feel about the CPC. Meanwhile, the military dictatorships in Thailand and Egypt get to be governments, not regimes, because – for the time being – the US has no interest in trying to undermine or replace the Thai and Egyptian regimes, sorry, “governments.”

The Guardian can also be viewed/downloaded in PDF format. View More