From all sides we are assailed by weasel words and by weasel phrases. These are words and phrases designed to have an emotional impact on people of low intelligence.
The word ‘intelligence’ derives from the Latin word, of which the principal parts are: Intelligo, intelligere, intellexi, intellectum. It is not difficult to see that the words, intelligent, intelligence, intellect and intellectual derive from this Latin root, which means understanding and discernment.
Intelligent people use language carefully, weighing up the meanings of the words and phrases they use, and being fully aware when they are slipshod and use clichés for the sometimes sake of speed and convenience. Using words carefully so that the words relate to specific meanings takes a lot of time and trouble and self-discipline.
On the other hand despots (which unfortunately includes almost the entire political class) have scant regard for meaning, but only of the emotional effect of the words and phrases that they use. And why is that? For a very simple reason – despots have long understood that men are not moved by reason, but they are moved by emotion. In fact the very word emotion has a Latin root. That is why that excellent book by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, “An Appeal to Reason” is doomed by its own title. Who cares about reason, when emotive words and phrases can stir men and women to all sorts of unreasonable actions, unreasonable opinions and unreasonable emotions?
Powerful people, those who seek to have power over other people, do have a very low form of intelligence, which enables them to understand what words and phrases, what words used in certain contexts, can move men to do what they want. That is not to say that their supposed motives, and what they believe are their motives, are not for the good of mankind. We can simply think of the word ‘Change’ which used within a certain context was powerful enough to get a President elected to the White House. Now some millions of American citizens are wondering what did he really mean by this supercharged word. For nothing very much has changed for the poor, the blacks and the unemployed. No one can doubt his sincerity in using it, but one can doubt whether he himself really understood or wanted to understand the significance of what he was saying.
Weasel Words Examples
Our own Prime Minister lectures and hectors the Chinese on humanrights and also on climatechange. I have deliberately joined these two phrases up, as they are typical examples of weasel phrases, which have contracted into weasel words. I won’t dwell on humanrights too much, for the truth is that we humans have not so much rights as obligations – as J.G.Bennett, author of “The Dramatic Universe”and “The Crisis in Human Affairs” used to say, ‘We have to pay the debt of our arising.’ I will not argue that one at present, for the concept that we owe something simply because we are born into this world, is at present a highly unfashionable concept.
Nevertheless it is the truth. But when we come to climatechange, which has morphed from a phrase into a single word concept, then we can more easily ask just exactly what meaning this concept has. It is very easy to see how emotive this phrase has become, and the more emotive it has become the more it has been stripped of any meaning. If you don’t believe me then watch those who splutter with rage when this is put to them. Here is a Conservative Prime Minister of apparently good education, and certainly one cannot doubt his goodwill, yet he uses a phrase on the world stage that is clearly devoid of any real meaning.
How dare I say that climatechange is a phrase devoid of any real meaning? Easily! I defy any one of you to come up with a comprehensible definition, which is satisfactory to any group of men of intelligence and discernment. And how can I, an unknown old man, dare to propose such a thing? Because I am confident that if we were to put this to one hundred members of Parliament of all or any Party, that we would be given one hundred differing definitions.
First of all what is the meaning of the word ‘climate’? Wherein lies the difference between weather and climate? Just how much weather makes a climate? How many climates are there on this Earth? How many microclimates are there on this Earth? Is there such a thing as a Global Climate? Is there such a thing as Global warming, another weasel phrase that is bandied about? Think about it. The Globe is a big place. Is the Globe warming? Come on now! Be real! Be reasonable, if only for a couple of minutes! I am willing to bet that if you asked 20 MPs and twenty members of the US Senate, and 20 members of the Australian Parliament, and the Canadian and the German and the French – I am willing to bet that you would come up with 20 differing understandings in each and every case.
Unfortunately these weasel words are legion, and they are used with abandon and with no respect for logic. So we have sentences like ‘climate is changing because of climate change’. Surprise! surprise! If you think I have made that up here is a quote from the Sci/Tech section of the BBC. The marine ecosystems for the jellyfish have been destabilised because of Climate Change. In fact almost every day somewhere on the BBC we hear that something or other has occurred because of climatechange! One might just as well say, Because things have changed they have changed. Another weasel word that has crept in is ‘sustainable’, when intermittent would almost certainly be more correct. ‘Renewable’ is in the same category.
Does it matter that there are such weasel words? That depends on your point of view. If you believe it is right to incite people, especially young people, to violence by the use of such words and ideas; if you believe it is right to dupe people, especially gullible people of all ages, film stars, old ladies and the like, into entering upon an idiotic crusade to SavethePlanet from emissions of CO2; if you believe it is right to perpetrate such a howler as your CarbonFootprint, then for you it does not matter. In fact these weasel words serve the purpose of awakening in people the lower forces, which deprive them of true initiative.
So emotive have these weasel words become that scientists who simply question anthropogenic global warming receive death threats, are deprived of their jobs, have their businesses burnt down, have their grants stopped and so on and so forth. They are denied access to scientific publications, where the whole peer review process has been corrupted.
If this is correct, how then does this unwholesome juggernaut of distorted science and half-truths and downright lies keep rolling?
Watch this space!
Anthony Bright-Paul, November 16th 2010