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  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2106
Weasel Words heading

Seat at the table

There’s a special group of Weasel Words that exist so that people with no power or influence can pretend they have either. Australia, usually in mid-air before the USA has thought of saying “jump!” needs these words. Hence “seat at the table” – reassuring Australian politicians and policy makers that we’re not just lackeys without actually saying anything to prove it. Australia will have a “seat at the table” when the US is developing large uncrewed maritime reconnaissance aircraft, which of course does not mean Australia’s views will make any difference. See also ‘in the room.’

Passive mood

Can grammar be weaselly? It can. Nine’s James Massola says that Hamas “has killed” 1,200 people, and that more than 37,000 people “have died” during the subsequent invasion. The killings by Hamas are what grammar nerds call ‘active mood,’ so we know who did them. The 37,000 Palestinian deaths (and counting) are ‘passive mood.’ Passive mood is used when you don’t want to talk about who did the deed, or when you don’t know who did it. We know who did it, but a lot of the media are having trouble working it out.


Former Australian attorney-general, George ‘bookshelves’ Brandis, has written off Assange supporters as ‘celebrities’ and ‘glitterati.’ If you think it’s wrong for Assange to be threatened with 175 years in prison for revealing war crimes, congratulations! Since it’s only Brandis who’s promoted you this way, don’t expect the paparazzi to show up any time soon.


This adverb is a classier ‘kind of,’ as when you feel vaguely hungry, or when someone looks vaguely European. In the hands of George Brandis, it’s a way of smearing someone as a fascist against the facts. Julian Assange is not a fascist. He doesn’t do the ‘roman salute’ that the Nazis used. This didn’t stop Brandis from describing Assange raising a fist as “vaguely fascistic.” There was nothing vague about the war crimes Assange uncovered, but Brandis just didn’t have room to mention them, what a shame.

Lights (the, keeping on)

Lights help us see things. For climate change denialists, lights are also a very helpful way of obscuring topics like the ongoing climate disaster, the need to reduce carbon emissions as soon as possible, and the corresponding need to use more renewable energy. Nationals MP Keith Pitt is the latest in a conga-line of pro-coal-and-gas, anti-renewables conservatives to use ‘keeping the lights on’ as a reason for burning more coal, saying that “Coal needs to be extended otherwise the lights go out.” We don’t know if Pitt had his eyes open during the 2019-2020 bushfires, linked to climate change caused by emissions from his beloved coal. A lot of other people found it hard to see through the smoke.


Merit and meritocracy hold out the false promise of total objectivity, free from nasty messy politics and (shudder) ‘ideology.’ David Littleproud, the National Party’s leader, has said that we should have less renewables and more nuclear, adding that projects “should be based on merit, rather than Labor’s ideology of 82 per cent renewables by 2030.” To be fair to Littleproud, it’s hard to tell if wanting to shovel money towards coal power while waiting for nuclear to get going is ideology or just a reflex on his part.

‘Something dash positive’

If you’re ‘something-positive,’ you are in favour of it without having to actually do anything. In 2022 Tanya Plibersek promised a “nature-positive plan” for national environmental protections by the end of 2023. She hasn’t done it yet, but given her record in approving fossil-fuel projects and the fact that she went to court to prove that she didn’t have to care about environmental impacts of emissions when approving coal and gas projects, we’re not feeling ‘Plibersek-positive’ about whatever reforms she finally gets around to.

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