top of page

On Weasel Words

In 1900, the American lawyer Stewart Chaplin wrote a short story entitled “The Stained Glass Political Platform” which was published in The Century Illustrated Magazine. In this story, the protagonist, Harris St John states:

“weasel words are words that suck all the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks an egg and leaves the shell."

First published in 2003, Don Watson’s Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language reinvigorated the term “weasel words” and his follow-up book Watson’s Dictionary of Weasel Words provides a useful list for those who like to play bureaucratic bingo during meetings.

What do terms such as “best practice” or “innovation” or “key deliverables” mean? Harry G Frankfurt has claimed that such terms are used intentionally to hide the fact that the people speaking them don’t understand what they’re saying.