The Guardian • Issue #2015


  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2015
Weasel Words heading

Are we “piling-on” our politicians? Who has a “mandate” in parliament? Are people “virtue signalling” too much these days? Well it depends on who you ask in this fortnight’s edition of Weasel Words!


/paɪl/ /ɒn/

In wrestling, a pile-on is a fun exercise in which a group of gigantic professional wrestlers form a pile with one opponent underneath. Like everything about pro-wrestling it’s non-serious fun in which nobody is hurt.

In online culture, a pile-on is yet another synonym for criticism you don’t like (see also “cancelled” and “attacked”). A pile-on is meaningful – people see that somebody is being criticised, and then they join in on the criticism, hoping to catch a bit of the righteous glory. However, it’s a weasel word because pile-on is often used to deflect the question of why somebody is being criticised in the first place.

The most recent weasely usage of pile-on involved the very weasely Scott Morrison’s candidate for the seat of Warringah, Katherine Deves. Deves seems to have only one subject – her dislike of trans people and the terrible peril this minority poses to the rest of us.

“I’m not going to join the pile-on,” announced our un-lamented former PM, the moment some reasonable person pointed out that Deves was a bigot, as though a pile-on had been announced and Morrison had received a formal invitation to it but was standing aside because he had principles and didn’t like bullying.



It’s mandate time again! No, we’re not all off to a nightclub to watch male strippers! I’m talking about the mandate political parties get from promising to do something and then winning power so they’re in a position to do it. This kind of mandate has a very special existence. It’s not in the Australian Constitution, any of the rules policed by the Australian Electoral Commission, or parliamentary procedures. Once a party has government in this country, they can do anything they like * – as long as the Constitution doesn’t rule it out. The mandate mainly exists when the Senate (also elected) won’t let the government do something it wants to. The government complains about having a mandate to do that thing, the Senators feel that they have a mandate to stop them from doing it, and the whole discussion is about as useful as telling an excited puppy to take it easy.

* Other than opting out of our “alliance” with the US. There are no rules saying we have to have that either, but we have to, it’s one of those things we don’t get to be democratic about here, and if any party ever got to power with a mandate to change our relationship to the US, they’d be unmandated pretty quickly.


/ˈvɜː.tʃuː ˌsɪɡ.nəl.ɪŋ/

Like “woke,” this has a meaning but is awfully misused. Sure it isn’t very pleasant if someone does a good thing not because it’s good, or because they might encourage others to do it, but solely because they want everyone else to admire them. Nobody likes a show pony. Mind you, even if the signaller is a smug show-off, they might still encourage people to do the good thing, so it’s not a complete loss.

However, virtue signalling is used not to target the smug but as a way for people who don’t like anyone doing some good things to vent their dislike of the good things without being too obvious. Rather than having the guts to come out in favour of racism, catastrophic climate change,  or against workers’ rights, the accusers describe everyone who cares about those things as “virtue signalling.” I don’t know about you, but I think we need drastic action on climate change, on workers’ rights, and against racism, and if anyone is against those things, they can go and signal to themselves.

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