The Guardian • Issue #2027


  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2027
Weasel Words heading



You can probably guess the weaselly use of this word. Controversial and controversy are easy to use weaslishly because they’re so open-ended. Strictly speaking, something which is “controversial” is the subject of controversy – a dispute between two sides holding opposing views. Here’s where the open-endedness comes in – who defines what the two sides are? Who gets to say how many people have to have differing opinions before its a controversy? Calling something “controversial” implies that there’s a genuine dispute with worthwhile arguments on both sides of an argument. The weasel-use of the term occurs when someone energetically dislikes something but wants to make that dislike look objective. Hence the following sentence from our false-balance-addicted ABC:

“Front pages have been recently filled with questions about the controversial lease of the Darwin port to Chinese-owned company Landbridge.”

What makes Landbridge’s lease of the port “controversial” is that the editors who put out those front pages are into Australia’s current wave of Sinophobia. None of the pieces about Landbridge that I’ve seen have shown that the company has nefarious plans for the port, and none have refuted the common-sense response that in the event of a war or military emergency, the government could just seize the port using those powers which are so much fun for governments when there’s a war on. Still, “controversial” looks more objective than “A bunch of editors are into demonising our major trading partner,” so there’s that.



Down-to-earth (DTE) is a good thing to be, because the alternatives are all unappealing. Who wants to be snooty, pretentious, or aloof, to name just a few off-putting choices for anyone who isn’t DTE? Not me! Down to earth means being practical, easy to understand, relatable, and human. Again, the term is weaselish because its open-ended. Depending on who’s being praised for being DTE, it can cover a multitude of sins such as “obnoxious” (Trump, Barnaby Joyce, etc), rude or racist (the late Prince Phillip was always being praised for being DTE by royalty suck-ups who couldn’t think of a better way to sum up a lifetime of privileged bigotry), or just thoughtless (Trump and Joyce again). By all means be down to earth if that’s your style,* just try to do it without being rude.

* remember the very technocratic Kevin Rudd using “fair shake of the sauce bottle” like an alien attempting blokiness? Fake DTE is a bad look Kev; stick to being an intelligent technocrat



A lot of weasel words arise because it’s easier to just use the lazy label than actually address ideas you don’t like. That’s why commentators say that they’re “anti-woke” or “politically incorrect” instead of explaining what they think is wrong with Black people having nice jobs (remember National Party Senator Matt Canavan being publicly “anti-woke” when a talented Black Australian got a gig with The Wiggles?).

“Ideology” and its adjectival form “ideological” perform this function. We all know that ideologies are creepy sets of ideas that zealots have, right? Also that ideology-havers are inflexible, punitive and narrow-minded, right? Eeek, I’m scared now.

Actually, an ideology is just a bunch of ideas or beliefs that a group of people share. We’re all into at least one ideology because we’re social beings. Some people think they have no ideology because they don’t understand this simple fact, also because they think their ideology is the actual world, for example, free-market enthusiasts who treat The Market as if it’s a law of physics.

The term “ideology” is thrown around like confetti by people who prefer demonising to discussing, and the latest example is talk of “Trans Ideology,” which manages to make Trans or Trans-supportive people look bad without spelling out what they’re doing that’s wrong.

Note: lazy use of “ideology” and “ideological” occurs all over the, dare I say it, ideological spectrum. If you use the term, make it non-weasely by explaining what’s wrong about the particular ideology you’re explaining/attacking.

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