For those of you who don’t know what a ‘Weasel Word’ is let me take a moment to enlighten you. Weasel words are clever little words we use to sound impressive and factual but could essentially be described at best as meaningless, to at worst, well – I’ll leave that to you to judge for yourself.
The term apparently originates from the way weasels ‘hollow’ out stolen eggs by sucking them dry via a small hole thus leaving them looking intact when in reality they are completely empty. They generally come in 3 distinct ‘flavours’ i.e. comparative, qualitative and descriptive, but not 100% exclusively.
Euphemisms and writing in the passive third party ‘so they say’ voice are also popular approaches.
“I can suck melancholy out of a song as a weasel sucks eggs.” William Shakespeare
Anyway, despite their debatable position on any morality spectrum, advertisers, marketers, copywriters (like me in fact) and of course politicians (gosh what a lovely bunch) use them all the time to charm consumers into believing something positive about a product or policy they are promoting.
As these words are so vague and ambiguous they can provide an easy ‘way out’ if anyone questions the validity of their claims (in fact so much so that some industry regulating authorities actually stipulate legally that you must use them!).
Think of words like; ‘support’, ‘seems’, ‘most’, ‘a recent study’ and ‘new improved’.
Get it now?
Here are some examples of how my top 6 favourite ‘Weasel Word’ combinations are most typically used. I have put them in handy italics and underlined them too as well as given a little breakdown of why they work so effectively.
WARNING: Learning this ‘revelation of the method’ could seriously enhance your critical thinking skills.
1. Cleanysil X-spot helps control acne symptoms when used regularly
Like all good weasel words if you critically think about them they don’t ever actually make any real sense.
The phrase ‘helps control’ doesn’t specify how, how much, why, or where. The same goes for the word ‘regularly’, once again it doesn’t provide any specific instructions as to how, when or where you should even use the product to benefit from its amazing medicinal efficacy!
Likewise when you see the phrase ‘removal of symptoms’, this simply means you will still have the condition so could still display some symptoms or perhaps even acquire new far worse ones!
2. Ario 5 non-biological washing powder leaves your clothes almost spotless
To my mind the beauty behind this sentence is that although most people notice the word ‘spotless’ they totally disregard the word ‘almost’.
Big mistake as it totally modifies the meaning of ‘spotless’ to a subjective level that can be interpreted in any way the Ario 5 non-biological company chooses!
3. New Nivisoft and Lovely Luxury Crème significantly assists in reducing the signs of ageing
This is my personal favourite and a variation on a real classic formula that you will see used all the time in the beauty and cosmetic industry.
‘New’ doesn’t really say anything at all, and of course in reality ‘reducing’ does not mean; stop, eliminate, remove, cease or reverse.
As for signs, well the product does not do anything to them it just ‘significantly assists’ in reducing them! Clever stuff isn’t it?
4. Mint Dew tooth gel combats tooth decay by up to 99.9%
What does ‘combat’ mean in the context of this sentence?
Like you, I have absolutely no idea. To fight I suppose, but what is doesn’t say is if it wins in the end?
As for; ‘up to’, yet again another valueless phrase that falsely makes you think only of the best case scenario.
5. Nine out of ten dental hygienists recommend Spartan Spearmint Triple Action mouth wash
This one is an excellent example of the old ‘unfinished and 100% unfounded statistical claim’.
It fails to provide the reader with any precise information on who these dental hygienists are, how they are chosen, what their incentives are, where they come from and on what basis they recommend Spartan Spearmint super dooper mouth wash.
Also what does ‘Triple Action’ mean? Sounds good though! Plus as an added bonus this sentence also uses the age old appeal to authority (see my Persuasion book for more on that little nugget of information about how you can cleverly influence people).
6. ‘New Kreatino Deluxe Colour Care 17 shampoo works for your hair on a sub atomic quantum level’
This is a case of using a straightforward universal truth to make a product sound impressive and hence much better.
If you think about it, everything exists to some degree on a sub atomic level but it has no real bearing on how a thing might operate in normal day to day macro reality, nor does it actually describe any of the products uniqueness or what makes it particularly special or better than any of its rivals.
It simply projects an impressive sounding construct for the mind to latch on to and take up mental critical thinking bandwidth.
Other words in this sly old category you will often see, and hence should be on the watch out for, are things like; natural, healthy, wholesome, enriched or hand-crafted!
So, that’s my Top 6 Advertising Weasel Words and Phrases. Naturally there are many, many more to choose from and the list seems to be growing on a daily basis. So my question to you now is, what words, phrases and examples did I miss that you would have included?
Let me know in the comments below!
The example products portrayed in this article are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred.