Lutz-Weasel Words - Weasel Words The Art of Saying Nothing...

Info icon This preview shows pages 1–10. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 2
Image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 4
Image of page 5

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 6
Image of page 7

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 8
Image of page 9

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Image of page 10
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: Weasel Words: The Art of Saying Nothing at All WILLIAM LUTZ William Lutz was born in 1940 in Racine, Wisconsin. A professor of English at Rutgers University at Camden, Lutz holds a Pl].D. in Victo- rian literature, linguistics and rhetoric, and a law degree from the Rut- ‘ gers School of Law. Lutz is the author or coauthor of numerous books having to do with language, including Webster’s New World Thesaurus (1985) and The Cambridge Thesaurus ofAmerican English (1994). Con- sidered an expert on language, Lutz has worked with many corporations and government agencies to promote clear, “plain” English. A member of the Pennsylvania bar, he was awarded the Pennsylvania Bar Associa- tion Clarity Award for the Promotion of Plain English in Legal Writing in 2001. Lutz is best known for his series of books on “doublespeak”: Dow blerpealz: Prom Revenue Enhancement to Terminal Living (1989), The New Doublespealz: Why No One Know: What Anyone’: Saying Anymore (1996), and Doubles-peak Defined: Cut Through the Bull'*** and Get to the Point ( 1999). Lutz edited the Quarterly Review ofDouhlerpeak from 1980 to 1994. The term doublespenlz comes from the Newspeak vocabulary of George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It refers to speech or writ- ing that presents two or more contradictory ideas in such a way that an unsuspecting audience is not consciously aware of the contradiction and is likely to be deceived. As chair of the National Council of Teachers of English’s Committee on Public Doublespeak, Lutz has been a watchdog of public officials and business leaders who use language to “mislead, distort, deceive, inflate, circumvent, and obfiJscate.” Each year the com- mittee presents the Orwell Awards, recognizing the most outrageous uses of public doublespeak in government and business. In the following excerpt from his book Doublespeak, Lutz reveals some of the ways that advertisers use language to imply great things about products and services without promising anything at all. “711111 consid- erable skill, advertisers can produce ads that make us believe a certain product is better than it is without actually lying about in Lutz’s word- bv-uori analysis of advertising claims reveals how misleading—and ridic- uZo:s—i*.-:se Siosrans and Him: M— ‘— - WILLIAM LUTZ: Weasel Words: The Art of Saying Nothing at All. 443 WEASEL WORDS One problem advertisers have when they try to convince you that the product they are pushing is really different from other, similar products is that their claims are subject to some laws. Not a lot of laws, but there are some designed to prevent fraudulent or untruthfiil claims in advertising. Even during the happy years of nonregulation under President Ronald Reagan, the FTC did crack down on the more blatant abuses in advertis- ing claims. Generally speaking, advertisers have to be careful in what they say in their ads, in the claims they make for the products they advertise. Parity claims are safe because they are legal and supported by a number of court decisions. But beyond parity claims there are weasel words. Advertisers use weasel words to appear to be making a claim for a product when in Pact they are making no claim at all. Weasel words get their name from the way weasels eat the eggs they find in the nests of other animals. A weasel will make a small hole in the egg, suck out the insides, then place the egg back in the nest. Only when the egg is examined closely is it found to be hollow. That’s the way it is with weasel words in advertis- ing: Examine weasel words closely and you’ll find that they’re as hollow as any egg sucked by a weasel. Weasel words appear to say one thing when in fact they say the opposite, or nothing at all. “Help”——The Number One Weasel Word The biggest weasel word used in advertising doublespeak is “help.” Now “help” only means to aid or assist, nothing more. It does not mean to conquer, stop, eliminate, end, solve, heal, cure, or anything else. But once the ad says “help,” it can say just about anything after that because “help” qualifies everything coming after it. The trick is that the claim that comes after the weasel word is usually so strong and so dramatic that you forget the word “help” and concentrate only on the dramatic claim. You read into the ad a message that the ad does not contain. More importantly, the advertiser is not responsible for the claim that you read into the ad, even though the advertiser wrote the ad so you would read that claim into it. The next time you see an ad for a cold medicine that promises that it “helps relieve cold symptoms fast,” don’t rush out to buy it. Ask yourself what this claim is really saying. Remember, “help” means only that the medicine will aid or assist. What will it aid or assist in doing? Why, “relieve” your cold “symptoms.” “Relieve” only means to ease, alleviate, or mitigate, not to stop, end, or cure. Nor does the claim say how much relieving this medicine will do. Nowhere does this ad claim it will cure anything. In fact, the ad doesn’t even claim it will do anything at all. The ad only claims that it will aid in relieving (not curing) your cold symptoms, which are probably a runny nose, watery eyes, and a headache. In other words, this medicine probably contains a standard deeongestant and some aspirin. By the way, 444 MEDIA AND ADVERTISING what does “fast” mean.> Ten minutes, one hour, one day? What is fast to one person can be very slow to another. Fast is another weasel word. Ad claims using “help” are among the most popular ads. One says, “Helps keep you young looking,” but then a lot of things will help keep you young looking, including exercise, rest, good nutrition, and a facelift. More importantly, this ad doesn’t say the productwill keep you young, only “young looking.” Someone may look young to one person and old to another. A toothpaste ad says, “Helps prevent cavities,” but it doesn’t say it will actually prevent cavities. Brushing your teeth regularly, avoiding sugars in food, and flossing daily will also help prevent cavities. A liquid cleaner ad says, “Helps keep your home germ free,” but it doesn’t say it actually kills germs, nor does it even specify which germs it might kill. “Help” is such a useful weasel word that it is often combined with other action-verb weasel words such as “fight” and “control.” Consider the claim, “Helps control dandrufl~ symptoms with regular use.” What does it really say.> It will assist in controlling (not eliminating, stopping, ending, or curing) the symptom: of dandruff, not the cause of dandruff nor the dandruff itself. What are the symptoms of dandrufi? The ad deliberately leaves that undefined, but assume that the symptoms referred to in the ad are the flaking and itching commonly associated with dandruff. But just shampooing with any shampoo will temporarily eliminate these symptoms, so this shampoo isn’t any difier- ent fi'om any other. Finally, in order to benefit from this product, you must use it regularly. What is “regular use”—daily, weekly, hourly? Using another shampoo “regularly” will have the same effect. Nowhere does this advertis— ing claim say this particular shampoo stops, eliminates, or cures dandruff. In fact, this claim says nothing at all, thanks to all the weasel words. Look at ads in magazines and newspapers, listen to ads on radio and television, and you’ll find the word “help” in ads for all kinds of products. How often do you read or hear such phrases as “helps stop .. . ,” “helps overcome . .. ,” “helps eliminate . . . ,” “helps y0u feel .. . ,” or “helps you look . . .”P If you start looking for this weasel word in advertising, you'll be amazed at how often it occurs. Analyze the claims in the ads using “help,” and you will discover that these ads are really saying nothing. There are plenty of other weasel words used in advertising. In fact, there are so many that to list them all would fill the rest of this book. But, in order to identify the doublespeak of advertising and understand the real meaning of an ad, you have to be aware of the most popular weasel words in advertising today. Virtually Spotless One of the most powerful weasel words is “virtually,” a word so innocent that most people don’t pay any attention to it when it is used in an advertising claim. But watch Out. “Virtually” is used in advertising claims that appear to make specific, definite promises when there is no 10 WILLIAM LU'I'Z: Weasel Words: The Art of Saying Nothing at All 445 promise. After all, what does “virtually” mean? It means “in essence or efi‘ect, although not in fact.” Look at that definition again. “Virtually” means not in fact. It does not mean “almost” or “just about the same as,” or anything else. And before you dismiss all this concern over such a small word, remember that small words can have big consequences. In 1971 a federal court rendered its decision on a case brought by a woman who became pregnant while taking birth control pills. She sued the manufacturer, Eli Lilly and Company, for breach of warranty. The woman lost her case. Basing its ruling on a statement in the pamphlet accompanying the pills, which stated that, “When taken as directed, the tablets offer virtu- ally 100 percent protection,” the court ruled that there was no warranty, expressed or implied, that the pills were absolutely effective. In its ruling, the court pointed out that, according to Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, “virtually” means “almost entirely” and clearly does not mean “absolute” (Whinington v. Eli Lilly and Company, 333 F. Supp. 98). In other words, the Eli Iilly company was really saying that its birth control pill, even when taken as directed, did not infact provide 100 percent pretec— n‘on against pregnancy. But Eli Lilly didn’t want to put it that way because then many women might not have bought Lilly’s birth control pills. The next time you see the ad that says that this dishwasher detergent “leaves dishes virtually spotless,” just remember how advertisers twist the meaning of the weasel word “virtually.” You can have lots of spots on your dishes after using this detergent and the ad claim will still be true, because what this claim really means is that this detergent does not in fact leave your dishes spotless. Whenever you see or hear an ad claim that uses the word “virtually,” just translate that claim into its real meaning. So the television set that is “virtually trouble free” becomes the television set that is not in fact trouble free, the “virtually foolproof operation” of any appliance becomes an operation that is in fact not foolproof, and the product that “virtually never needs service” becomes the product that is not in fact service free. New and Improved If “new” is the most frequently used word on a product package, “improved” is the second most frequent. In fact, the two words are almost always used together. It seems just about everything sold these days is “new and improved.” The next time you’re in the supermarket, try count- ing the number of times you see these words on products. But you’d bet- ter do it while you’re walking down just one aisle, otherwise you’ll need a calculator to keep track of your counting. Just what do these words mean? The use of the word “new” is restricted by regulations, so an advertiser can’t just use the word on a product or in an ad without meeting certain requirements. For example, a product is considered new for about six months during a national advertising campaign. If the product is being advertised only in a limited test market 446 MEDIA AND ADVERTISING area, the word can be used longer, and in some instances has been used for as long as two years. What makes a product “new”? Some products have been around for a long time, yet every once in a while you discover that they are being adver- tised as “new.” Well, an advertiser can call a product new if there has been “a material fiinctional change” in the product. What is “a material func- tional change,” you ask? Good question. In fact it’s such a good question it’s being asked all the time. It’s up to the manufacturer to prove that the product has undergone such a change. And if the manufacturer isn’t chal- lenged on the claim, then there’s no one to stop it. Moreover, the change does not have to be an improvement in the product. One manufacturer added an artificial lemon scent to a cleaning product and called it “new and improved,” even though the product did not clean any better than without the lemon scent. The manufacturer defended the use of the word “new” on the grounds that the artificial scent changed the chemical formula of the product and therefore constituted “a material functional change.” Which brings up the word “improved.” When used in advertising, “improved” does not mean “made better.” It only means “changed” or “different from before.” So, if the detergent maker puts a plastic pour spout on the box of detergent, the product has been “improved,” and away we go with a whole new advertising campaign. Or, if the cereal maker adds more fruit or a different kind of fruit to the cereal, there’s an improved product. Now you know why manufacrurers are constantly making little changes in their products. Whole new advertising campaigns, designed to convince you that the product has been changed for the better, are based on small changes in superficial aspects of a product. The next time you see an ad for an “improved” product, ask yourself what was wrong with the old one. Ask yourself just how “improved” the product is. Finally, you might check to see whether the “improved” version costs more than the unimproved one. After all, someone has to pay for the millions of dollars spent advertising the improved product. Of course, advertisers really like to run ads that claim a product is “new and improved.” While what constitutes a “new” product may be subject to some regulation, “improved” is a subjective judgment. A manu- facturer changes the shape of its stick deodorant, but the shape doesn’t improve the function of the deodorant. That is, changing the shape doesn’t affect the deodorizing ability of the deodorant, so the manufacturer calls it “improved.” Another manufacturer adds ammonia to its liquid cleaner and calls it “new and improved.” Since adding ammonia does afiect the clean ing ability of the product, there has been a “material functional change” in the product, and the manufacturer can now call its cleaner “new,” and “improved” as well. Now the weasel words “new and improved” are plastered all over the package and are the basis for a multimillion-dollar ad campaign. But after six months the word “new” will have to go, until someone can dream up another change in the product. Perhaps it will be 15 WILLIAM LUTZ: Wasel Words: The Art of Saying Nothing at All 447 adding color to the liquid, or changing the shape of the package, or maybe adding a new dripless pour spout, or perhaps a _. The “improvements” are endless, and so are the new advertising claims and campaigns. “New” is just too useful and powerful a word in advertising for adver- tisers to pass it up easily. So they use weasel words that say “new” without really saying it. One of their favorites is “introducing,” as in, “Introducing improved Tide,” or “Introducing the stain remover.” The first is simply saying, here’s our improved soap; the second, here’s our new adverfis~ ing campaign for our detergent. Another favorite is “now,” as in, “Now there’s Sinex,” which simply means that Sinex is available. Then there are phrases like “Today’s Chevrolet,” “Presenting Dristan,” and “A fresh way to start the day.” The list is really endless because advertisers are always finding new ways to say “new” without really saying it. If there is a second edition of [my] book, I’ll just call it the “new and improved” edition. Wouldn’t you really rather have a “new and improved” edition of [my] book rather than a “second” edition? Acts Fast “Acts” and “works” are two popular weasel words in advertising because they bring action to the product and to the advertising claim. When you see the ad for the cough syrup that “Acts on the cough control center,” ask yourself what this cough syrup is claiming to do. Well, it‘s just claiming to “act,” to do something, to perform an action. What is it that the cough syrup does? The ad doesn’t say. It only claims to perform an action or do something on your “cough control center.” By the way, what and where is your “cough control center”? I don’t remember learning about that part of the body in human biology class. Ads that use such phrases as “acts fast,” “acts against,” “acts to pre- vent,” and the like are saying essentially nothing, because “act” is a word empty of any specific meaning. The ads are always careful not to specify exactly what “act” the product performs. Just because a brand of aspirin claims to “act fast” for headache relief doesn’t mean this aspirin is any better than any other aspirin. What is the “act” that this aspirin performs? You’re never told. Maybe it just dissolves quickly. Since aspirin is a parity product, all aspirin is the same and therefore functions the same. Works Like Anything Else Ifyou don’t find the word “acts” in an ad, you will probably find the weasel word “works.” In fact, the two words are almost interchangeable in advertising. Watch out for ads that say a product “works against,” “works like,” “works for,” or “works longer.” As with “acts,” “works” is the same meaningless verb used to make you think that this product really does something, and maybe even something special or unique. But “works,” like “acts,” is basically a word empty of any specific meaning. 20 448 MEDIA AND ADVERTISING Like Magic Whenever advertisers want you to stop thinking about the product and to start thinking about something bigger, better, or more attractive than the product, they use that very popular weasel word “like.” The word “like” is the advertiser’s equivalent of a magician’s use of misdirection. “Like” gets you to ignore the product and concentrate on the claim the advertiser is making about it. “For skin like peaches and cream” claims the ad for a skin cream. What is this ad really claiming? It doesn’t say this cream will give you peaches—and-cream skin. There is no verb in this claim, so it doesn’t even mention using the product. How is skin ever like “peaches and cream”? Remember, ads must be read literally and exactly, according to the dictionary definition of words. (Remember “virtually” in the Eli Lilly case.) The ad is making absolutely no promise or claim whatsoever for this skin cream. If you think this cream will give you soft, smooth, youthfiil- looking skin, you are the one who has read that meaning into the ad. The wine that claims “It’s like taking a trip to France” wants you to think about a romantic evening in Paris as you walk along the boulevard after a wonderful meal in an intimate little bistro. Of course, you don’t really believe that a wine can take you to France, but the goal ofthe ad is to getyou to think pleasant, romantic thoughts about France and not about how the wine tastes or how expensive it may be. That little word “like” has taken you away from crushed grapes into a world of your own imaginative making. Who knows, maybe the next time you buy Wine, you’ll think those pleasant thoughts when you see this brand of wine, and you’ll buy it. Or, maybe you weren’t even thinking about buying wine at all, but now you just might pick up a bottle the next time you’re shopping. Ah, the power of “like” in advertising. How about the most famous “like” claim of all, “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should”? Ignoring the grammatical error here, you might want to know what this claim is saying. Whether a cigarette tastes good or bad is a subjective judgment because what tastes good to one person may well taste horrible to another. Not everyone likes flied snails, even if they are called mare got. (ngum'bw mm mdisputandum, which was ...
View Full Document

{[ snackBarMessage ]}

What students are saying

  • Left Quote Icon

    As a current student on this bumpy collegiate pathway, I stumbled upon Course Hero, where I can find study resources for nearly all my courses, get online help from tutors 24/7, and even share my old projects, papers, and lecture notes with other students.

    Student Picture

    Kiran Temple University Fox School of Business ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    I cannot even describe how much Course Hero helped me this summer. It’s truly become something I can always rely on and help me. In the end, I was not only able to survive summer classes, but I was able to thrive thanks to Course Hero.

    Student Picture

    Dana University of Pennsylvania ‘17, Course Hero Intern

  • Left Quote Icon

    The ability to access any university’s resources through Course Hero proved invaluable in my case. I was behind on Tulane coursework and actually used UCLA’s materials to help me move forward and get everything together on time.

    Student Picture

    Jill Tulane University ‘16, Course Hero Intern