weasel word

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  • Some say that the moon landings were faked!” (who?)
  • Mistakes were made.” (who made them?)
  • Many people are saying that my businesses are the greatest!” (who?)
  • I've heard that all of our societal institutions are rigged, all scientists are effete elites, and all the news is fake!” (from whom?)


Initially a reference to weasels' practice of making small holes in eggs and then eating the contents, leaving the shell; later sometimes taken as a reference to the weasel's "wriggling, evasive character".[1]


weasel word (plural weasel words)

  1. (derogatory, dated) A word that negates or removes the meaning of the word it qualifies.
    • 1900. Century Magazine, quoted in Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (New York: Facts on File Publications, 1987)).
      Weasel words are words that suck all of the life out of the words next to them just as a weasel sucks an egg and leaves the shell.
    • 1916 May 31, Theodore Roosevelt, speech delivered in St. Louis, MO:
      Now, you can have universal training or you can have voluntary training, but when you use the word 'voluntary' to qualify the word 'universal', you are using a weasel word; it has sucked all the meaning out of 'universal'. The two words flatly contradict one another.
  2. (derogatory) A word used to hedge a statement, for example to make it vague, equivocal, or misleading.
    • 2021 December 1, Nigel Harris, “IRP snuffs out 'levelling up'”, in RAIL, number 945, page 3:
      In scrapping HS2's eastern leg and descoping Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), Prime Minister Boris Johnson's frequent and unambiguous promises to build both have been exposed for the weasel words they were.
    Synonym: hedge
    Hypernym: qualifier



weasel word (third-person singular simple present weasel words, present participle weasel wording, simple past and past participle weasel worded)

  1. To use weasel words.
    • 1979, Peter Straub, Ghost Story:
      Now Sears looked down at the person fate had put closer to him than anyone else in the world, and knew that Ricky was thinking that he had weasel-worded his way out of the last question.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  1. ^ Bryan A. Garner, A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (2001), page 926.