Avoid Weasel Words

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Weasel Words

Weasel words are expressions that attempt to make an unsupported claim seem authoritative. It’s a way of making a point appear more convincing than it may actually be. Here are some examples of weasel words:

  • Studies show that most Americans are morally conservative.
  • It is commonly known that Oreos are the most delicious mass-produced cookie.
  • Experience shows that watching television has no effect on health.

The use of weasel words is not always intentional, nor is it necessarily meant to deceive or manipulate the reader. It’s possible that studies actually do show some fact indicated by an essay writer. But in order for a claim to be taken seriously, the writer should indicate, perhaps in a footnote, exactly what studies he or she is referring to.

It is best to avoid weasel words entirely, although it is possible to use them in a non-weasely way. They are usually unconvincing, especially to experienced, discriminating readers. The list below gives some examples of words often used in a weaselly manner.

A Non-exhaustive List Weasel Words

  • A growing body of evidence…                       
  • studies show/indicate/reveal…
  • It is commonly known/understood/believed…
  • As everyone/everybody knows…
  • Experience shows/indicates/proves…
  • Evidence indicates…
  • Critics claim…
  • It stands to reason…
  • People say…
  • It has been claimed/said…
  • Reason dictates…
  • It is generally understood…
  • Popular wisdom has it…
  • It has been mentioned…
  • Commonsense indicates/insists/proves…
  • Some argue…
  • Up to 50%… (everything from 0-50% is “up to 50%”)
  • More than 50%… (everything from 51-100% is “more than 50%”)
  • A vast majority…
  • A recent study at a leading university…
  • It is known that…

Have you resorted to weasel words in your writing? It’s common, but not by any means limited to student writing. Now that you know what they are, I bet you find them all over the place.

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About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. RichZ
    RichZ04-05-2013

    The one I find to be the biggest signal that you’re about to read a “fact” the author pulled out of his posterior orifice is, “It’s a scientifically proven fact that…”

    On the other hand, I find that “Some argue…” and “Popular wisdom has it…” are usually used to introduce a challenge to or debunking of the point that popular wisdom or the some who argue hold as valid.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko04-05-2013

      That’s true. It’s possible to use “weasel words” without being weaselly. Appeals to reason, commonsense, and popular opinion can be legitimate. It’s just wise to be careful.

  2. CJ
    CJ04-01-2013

    I just gotta say — that picture is adorable. xD

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