WEASEL WORDS: The Art of Saying What You Don't Mean by Marlo Pei

WEASEL WORDS: The Art of Saying What You Don't Mean

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Weasel words are words that suck the life out of the words next to them, just as a weasel sucks the egg and leaves the shell."" ""Real,"" ""just,"" and ""only"" are prominent examples. Politicians and advertisers are heavy users and media voices also contribute a full share. Marlo Pei here challenges these and other contemporary misfortunes with some of the agility and bile of Edwin Newman. What, for example, can American Airlines' ""doing what we do best"" possibly mean? Pei clearly enjoys genuine linguistic creativity (fanzine, alibiography, kidvid) and the transfer of, say, sports terms into general parlance (baseball's ""get to first base"" or ""go to bat for"") but he has a lengthening list of usages that muddy the normal process of language change. He deplores several functional changes (using ""savvy"" as an adjective), the perversion of specific words (the pornographer's ""bold"" and ""mature""), and assorted abominations arising from women's lib (The Iceperson Cometh, ""the siblinghood of personkind"") and other sources. Pei is a steadily opinionated, persnickety critic, and his idiosyncratic targets range far from his title: he decries DiMaggio, Graziano, and Garagiola as insincere spielmen, continues to find Catcher in the Rye ""dull,"" and avoids M*A*S*H and other movies with excessive background noise (""Perhaps our film industry should take some lessons in subdued and subordinate sound from Muzak""). Pei himself is neither Muzakmild nor weasely: he calls them as he sees them, so the count's in his favor.

Pub Date: Sept. 27th, 1978
Publisher: Harper & Row