As an advocate of clear communication, certain phrases make my blood boil. They are weasel phrases because the speaker is trying to weasel out of what they really should say.
They often begin with the word “we”, itself a way of avoiding “I”, and therefore shifting blame and responsibility to others.
Here are 6 of my favourite weasel phrases:
Phrase: The system failed.
Example: It was no one’s fault that the child starved to death. The system simply failed to meet the child’s needs.
What the phrase really means: I don’t know or care who is at fault, or can’t be bothered to find out.
Phrase: We’ll consider…
Example: We’ll consider not raising fees.
What the phrase really means: I won’t even consider your stupid idea.
Phrase: Mistakes were made.
Example: Mistakes were made during the construction phase, causing the building to fall down and kill everyone inside.
What the phrase really means: We don’t want to tell you who messed up.
Phrase: We encourage…
Example: We encourage the Iranian government to stop torturing people.
What the phrase really means: I know you’ll ignore me completely, so I’ll just ask you to do it, with no consequences if you don’t.
Phrase: My ‘ask’ is…
Example: My ‘ask’ that we have it done in 30 days.
What the phrase really means: I’m trying to sound impressive and clever by converting a verb into a noun.
Phrase: I’m sorry if/but….
Examples: I’m sorry if you were offended; I’m sorry but that was not my intention.
What the phrase really means: I’m not sorry.
Summing up: My ‘ask’ is that I encourage you to stop using these phrases, but if you don’t, then the system has failed, mistakes were made, and I’m sorry if that disturbs you.
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