All competent politicians know, often purely instinctively, how to coin weasel words, or at least how to use them. Some short words make superb weasels.
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And in between are all shades of grey—I, you and I, the Cabinet, the government, parliament, the country, the world, the solar system, the universe. The trick is to make the meaning slide ambiguously from clause to clause, from sentence to sentence. The Tory party used to call itself the natural party of government; now, by pandering to our desires to be included, new Labour tries to claim that unrealistic role for itself.
But some of this subtlety subverts itself. Or even the Third Reich?
Some of the rhetoric is even derisory. The rhetoric creates the policies, not the other way round. Indeed, the rhetoric hides the absence of policies.
Although Professor Fairclough curiously fails to note this fact, he does point to what he calls the reality-rhetoric dichotomy, exemplified by the contrast between rhetoric about open government and the restrictive reality of the Freedom of Information Bill. Lest you doubt his interpretation, Professor Fairclough presents the evidence—an analysis of word counts and collocations in two bodies of writings and speeches, one from new Labour and one from the old left.
He shows how words like reform, business, values, and work are no longer used to mean what they once did—that the weasels have got more weaselly.
Disappointingly, he fails to compare these two bodies of texts with a comparable body of right wing texts although he does occasionally cite Mrs Thatcher and President Clinton for comparison.
But the message is clear. If you don't want to be too weaselly misled, look out for the weasel words and structures in everything you read. Look for them in the political manifestos, in executive directives, in the next letter from your friendly consultant.
Oh yes, and even in book reviews. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U.
Journal List BMJ v. Jeff Aronson , clinical reader in clinical pharmacology.
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