The Guardian • Issue #2067


  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2067
Weasel Words heading

Nuclear energy

Wait a minute, nuclear is just a thing, isn’t it? How can that be a weasel word?

Nuclear energy is a way of producing electricity by using a nuclear reactor, that’s true. Nuclear power produces energy without using fossil fuels or causing carbon emissions. There’s a downside; nuclear power produces radioactive waste as a byproduct, and if something goes badly wrong as at Chernobyl or Fukushima, you can irradiate a lot of land and kill a lot of people.

It qualifies as a weasel word because “nuclear power” is waved around by people who have absolutely zero interest in actually using it to generate electricity. Peter Dutton is doing the “let’s have the conversation” bit (see previous Weasel Words) on nuclear. He has access to decades of reports showing that nuclear is dangerous, expensive, and slow compared to renewables. Dutton knows that building safe nuclear power in Australia would cost an absolute fortune and that the money would have to come from somewhere – taxes or higher power bills are the most likely candidates. He doesn’t care about any of that. He wants to talk about nuclear power because he wants to deny the government a win, and to placate the anti-renewable wing of his party who, like him, overlook all the drawbacks of nuclear power because it’s a way of hating renewables.


“Populist” is a meaningful term. The non-weaselly form means making simplistic appeals to the most people. It’s bad to be a populist, it means you’re kind of insulting everybody’s intelligence by appealing to easy to understand, but wrong popular beliefs. When Donald Trump proposed to keep illegal immigrants out of the US by building a really big wall, he was being populist, because a really big wall wouldn’t keep migrants out.

Populist is weaselly when it’s used to describe a popular idea you don’t like. Some things just are that simple and popular. Taxing bank super-profits is one such idea. It’s a good idea, and unlike Trump’s magical wall, it’s very doable, but some commentators have called it “populist.” That’s popular guys – deservedly so.


It’s good for things to be seamless, it means they’re working really well. I don’t mind a seam or two in clothes, but I get that seamless stuff is really well made. “Seamless” is how Richard Marles describes having US spies integrated into Australia’s Defence Intelligence Organisation (see Guardian #2066). Once upon a time, Australian spooks had a category of information labelled “AUSTEO” meaning that it was for Australian Eyes Only, but that was before Marles made us a seamless part of the United States military.

Salty (terms)

Calling someone’s language “salty” suggests that they’re either a pirate or enjoy dropping the odd swear-word, but in a fine example of weaselly British language, “salty” joins the long list of Weasel Words which exist to make racism look like enjoyable aggro (Australia abounds with these – “feisty,” “outspoken,” “politically incorrect”). Lee Anderson is the Deputy Chair of the British Conservative Party, and has been defending the indefensible – his party’s new idea of keeping asylum seekers in overcrowded disease-ridden barges. Anderson has also described all Roma as thieves and has argued that it’s possible to make a meal for sixty cents, which is more innumerate than salty.


Pat Conroy, our Defence industry minister, has told the ALP conference that “Strength deters war”.  It’s a funny form of strength that is shown by paying the US more money than any Australian government has ever paid anyone for anything in return for submarines which we’re only allowed to use if the USA give us the okay. Then again, Conroy also accused ALP members who opposed the AUKUS rush to war of being just like Robert Menzies selling pig-iron to the pre-war Japanese, so anything goes, it’s that kind of conference.

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