New Labour, New Language?BMJ 2000; 320 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7247.1480 (Published 27 May 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:1480
- Jeff Aronson, clinical reader in clinical pharmacology
Routledge, £9.99, pp 178
ISBN 0 415 21827 6
“I can suck melancholy out of a song,” says Shakespeare's Jaques, “as a weasel sucks eggs.” Hence the phrase “weasel words,” coined for political purposes in the United States at the end of the 19th century and used (most famously by Theodore Roosevelt, criticising President Woodrow Wilson) to describe rhetoric that sounds as if it has substance but is actually empty of specific meaning, or is at best ambiguous and vague. All competent politicians know, often purely instinctively, how to coin weasel words, or at least how to use them. But none is as good at it as Tony Blair and “new Labour,” according to Norman Fairclough in this penetrating disquisition, refreshingly free of sociolinguistic jargon and bolstered by linguistic evidence and analysis.
Some short words make superb weasels. Like “we.” Not much ambiguity there, you might think. But “we” …