Wikipedia talk:Embrace weasel words

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
WikiProject Essays
WikiProject icon This page is within the scope of WikiProject Essays, a collaborative effort to organise and monitor the impact of Wikipedia essays. If you would like to participate, please visit the project page, where you can join the discussion.
 Mid  This page has been rated as Mid-impact on the project's impact scale.

Reason for the essay[edit]

I just wanted to point out that under the conserving brain space section, in the last example, the bad and the best examples are the same... They both say "Some people believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists, but most experts are skeptical."

This needs to be changed to demonstrate what the best example actually is.... > > > > > > —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:26, 12 February 2009 (UTC)

I noticed that a lot of people in the Wikipedia_Talk:Avoid weasel words felt there were times when weasel words were good. I agreed, so.. I wrote this. This is my first attempt at a Wikipedia space essay, so... if i did anything wrong, please change it. --Alecmconroy 15:15, 17 July 2006 (UTC)

I agree with the point of the essay, however, I disagreed that weasel word statements are verifiable as is. They could be verifiable if they have a citation at the end of the sentence, but as is they do not give a verifier any place to look for the evidence, which is needed for the policy. Ansell 23:35, 18 July 2006 (UTC)
Thanks for the edits, and thanks for the agreement. It's funny, I usually look at "verfiable" as more a "verifiable in theory", and tend to look at well-cited sentences as being "not only verifiable, but actually verified". It's a subtle linguistic distinction, and since your language will definitely promote the better writing, lets use yours! :)--Alecmconroy 11:24, 28 July 2006 (UTC)

Good essay[edit]

I would just to mention that I thought this was a very interesting and thought-provoking essay. You have completely turned my view of "weasel words" on its head. Good work! K-UNIT 05:25, 31 July 2006 (UTC)

Totally agree! I didn't realize the significance of the anti-weasel word argument in this angle; always did find it annoying to see more info given in a sentence regarding the source than the opinion of that source. Always remember to reference is the take-away I suppose. Apothecia (talk) 07:18, 17 March 2009 (UTC)

Wikipedia:Embrace weasel words[edit]

I see the humor in this essay but as you may know essays have a habit of gaining some weight in terms of being cited (much like guidelines and policy). Why confuse editors with an essay counter to guidelines and rather out of accord with policy? (Netscott) 10:42, 16 August 2006 (UTC) (originally posted to User_talk:Alecmconroy).

Well, I suppose because I'm not kidding. I really think weasel words are underused. I do want this essay to gain weight and be cited.
I constantly see writing on wikipedia that is terse and hard to read because it gives me more information than I need. I'll be reading a sentence that says,"Mr. Alfred E. Newman, county-assayer for Twin Peaks, WA from 1999-2000 was one of many who believes in Bigfoot" and my mind tries to remember "okay-- make a note-- this guy is A.E. Newman, County Assay, Twin Peaks, 1999-2000". And then, I'll read through the whole article and realize that he never came up again in the whole article, and I didn't really need to pay attention to his name at all-- he was just "a little too much information" that someone threw in so they wouldn't violate Avoid weasel words.
But worst of all-- sometimes I'll write this way, saying simply and straightforwardly "Some people believe in Bigfoot" and citing that fact, and someone will revert me saying "no weasel words". So, then I have to explain to them why, I think, in this case, a weasel word is useful and helpful and a good way to do things in this situation. And so, eventually, it just got simpler to say: "see the essay on this subject".
There's a strong perception here that weasel words are the hallmark of bad writing. I disagree-- I think properly cited weasel words are a hallmark of wonderful writing-- our ability to quickly and succinctly summarize the most relevant trends while sparing our readers an unnecessarily level of detail. The important think is not that we AVOID weasel words-- the important thing is that we back them up.
--Alecmconroy 11:03, 16 August 2006 (UTC)
Your logic is perfectly fine for tabloids and the like but are you forgetting we're an encyclopedia? We're here to write that encyclopedia not move towards The Sun (newspaper) like journalism in how topics covered here are written. If a passage of text is controversial then by all means it needs more citations not less. Perhaps you're directing this essay towards editors who are writing non-controversial passages, that is understandable... but weasel words are the tools of editors hoping to skip out of Wikipedia:Neutral point of view which is a non-negotiable policy. Even your own (this) essay admits as much. That is very wrong. (Netscott) (Netscott) 11:13, 16 August 2006 (UTC)
Well, see-- this is a very good opportunity, because this is the first involved discussion I've had with someone who disagreed with this essay. It's very true that Weasel Words are often used to cheat Verifiability and NPOV, and that's NOT okay. Controvesial weasel words MUST be backed up with citations, period. But, I just want us to be sure we don't throw the baby out with the proverbial bath-water here, and institute a ban on "some people" just because they CAN be used to create ban writing. Those same words, properly cited, can be used to create WONDERFUL writing too, and so, I wanted to tell people that, and to have people understand why I sometimes write that way. I don't think that makes us like the tabloids-- I think that just makes us able to hit the high-points in our sentences and leave our verifications to our references, where they belong. --Alecmconroy 11:23, 16 August 2006 (UTC)
I do not see why an encyclopedia must be more verbose for the sake of in-sentence attribution for every statement. Neutrality is not a given in an environment where weasel words are banned, Attribution to sources with undue weight is a problem which violates the Neutrality policy but fits entirely within the Avoid weasel words guideline. Ansell 13:08, 16 August 2006 (UTC)

Weasel words are not the hallmark of incompetent writers. Cluttery Unnecessary citations and bullshit are. Winston Churchill said that. Smith Jones 23:29, 17 August 2006 (UTC)

MfD Result Notice[edit]

This page was the subject of an MfD discussion closed on 21 August 2006. The result was Keep. Xoloz 16:35, 21 August 2006 (UTC)


I haven't seen any indication that this is humorous from the proponents of this essay. Those calling it humorous are invariably its detractors. I've removed {{humor}}. Johnleemk | Talk 13:35, 25 August 2006 (UTC)

Yeah, seriously is this page really necessary? It just seems to provide mixed messages to the uniformed. Apterygial 10:55, 7 September 2006 (UTC)

The page has a point, I do not see how bad, better, best is in any way a mixed message. The passive voice references may be in direct opposition to WP:WEASEL, however, there are numerous complaints that WEASEL goes against good academic literary style by being so completely anti passive voice. I rather it this way compared to people simply voicing their complaints on the talk page of the competing guideline. Ansell 11:36, 9 September 2006 (UTC)
I respect your studies but I have to contend that your essay is contrary to the intent of the Wikipedia policies and only serves to undermine them. Firstly, you have to understand that this has nothing to do with literary style but rather the creation of an encyclopedia. Your entire argument is based on the idea that weasel words can sometimes be appropriate -- this much is conceded in the exceptions section of the Avoid weasel words policy -- but it does not follow that you should present what is, in effect, a contrary policy. The very idea of introducing a better style which is somewhere between bad and good is preposterous. How is this different than saying better is good enough so stop there? This is a mixed message (if viewed as a policy which it may mistakenly be) if ever there was one. Furthermore, it is in bad taste that you have created a page which basically says we should ignore the existing policy without even discussing this (at least not seriously) on the policy page in question. As you know, the purpose of the policy is to eliminate the very large number of non-NPOV statements which use this form to lend credibility and give the illusion of NPOV. A simple policy is necessary to achieve this. Likewise, voicing complaints on the talk page is necessary to allow everyone an opportunity to debate the issue and come to a proper conclusion. -- abfackeln 05:53, 16 October 2006 (UTC)
Well, obviously this page needs work of some kind to be more clear or something, given the number of objections it's received. The thing is, Abfackeln-- it's not that I think the judicious use of weasel words is a "better" in between "bad" and "good"-- I actually sincerely believe that it is "best" in some cases. The reason I wrote this was that I often put unnecessary details in the footnotes, but that editing style was often disputed as "weasel words". Eventually I found it easier to write my explaination down in one place. --Alecmconroy 00:05, 17 October 2006 (UTC)

I actually thought it was humor when reading the very first sentence: "Some experts assert ...". - LegendLength, 1 Jan 2007

Ditto. And good humor at that. -- Ben (talk) 18:15, 25 January 2007 (UTC)

What a bunch of crap[edit]

weasel words, including the ones you use as examples of better, simply aren't.

Bad: Montreal is the nicest city in the world Better!: Some people say Montreal is the nicest city in the world Best: (but not what newbies would write) The Canadian National Tourism Council awarded Montreal the title of "Nicest city in the world" from 1999 to 2003 and again in 2006.

Absolutely not. The goal of wikipedia is not to make every sentence true. It is to make every sentence verififable. Weasel words remove the verifiability requirement by appealing to truth by making the statement true without adding sources. The first statement is easily understood to be both false and untrue. It is easily recognized as bening such by it's absurdity. Statement 3 is ostensibly tied to a reliable source. But statement 2 is true but most likely unsourced. It is the worst of the 3. It's lazy and, specifically, when it's used against living persons is insidious.--Tbeatty 14:17, 22 October 2006 (UTC)

Yeah, I'm considering deleting the whole first part of the essay and sticking with just the part that talks about using weasel words to achieve a higher level of abstraction and avoid including an unnecssary level of much detail. In the meantime, I added language to remind the readers that the "better" sentence is still bad. --Alecmconroy 09:26, 23 October 2006 (UTC)

I don't understand how the title can contradict "avoid weasel words" and still embrace citations (inline, no less). If you want high levels of abstraction, then try reading about mathematics. It's an art, so you pretty much hav to verify everything those articles tell you in order to understand them. BrewJay (talk) 05:06, 4 July 2008 (UTC)

my tuppence' worth[edit]

Just wanted to show my support for the author of the essay under discussion and many - though not all, I hasten to add - of the points raised by her/him. Many - though, I hasten to add, not most - of the pages marked as exemplary Wikipedia articles contain weasely stuff (words, expressions and insinuations, etc.), just to mention one of the criticisms it might be possible to make in some - though I hasten to add, not many - cases.

Neither extreme - too many weasels/no weasels whatsoever - can be considered good writing and while it is true that in some (etc.) cases it would be perfectly possible to modify the text accordingly, some (etc.) editors just seem to press their weasel key without thinking or (which in my humb. op. is worse) without providing constructive criticism with which to improve the article.

On the other hand, I must admit to being fascinated by a recurrent phenomenon on Wikipedia, to wit that in many cases - though I hasten to add, not all -, those who most vehemently oppose or embrace a particular language feature tend to be particularly careless in their spelling, syntax, punctuation and whatnot.

I'm not pointing any finger at anyone - as the saying goes: remember that when you point your finger at someone there are three others pointing back at you - but it is in this light that I appreciate the essay for providing food for thought and helping me/you/us to reflect on my/your/our use of language. In general. Here's to making Wikipedia both fun, informative and authoritative. Cheers! --Technopat 14:01, 31 January 2007 (UTC)

Was that January 2007? Time passes , oh t-p (0.02%) — Newbyguesses 16:39, 27 May 2007 (UTC)

When to embrace weasel words.[edit]

This essay contains content that should be in the orijinal, supposedly contrasting policy, which maintains its point. If there are exceptions to wikipedia:avoid weasel words, then they should be spelled out there. That way, we get a more balanced viewpoint. BrewJay (talk) 05:21, 4 July 2008 (UTC)

Specific to politics[edit]

I think I carved the meat out this article (exceptions) and grafted it into the policy. The article said it was there, but it wasn't. I considered using that stuff about politics gravitating to weasel words, and I think it might well be true. They're lawyers. It's very hard for them to shake out of weasely terms. But, it's hard to be sure without reading a lot of articles about politicians and their schools of thought. Merjer complete. BrewJay (talk) 06:06, 4 July 2008 (UTC)

not making the complete case[edit]

I'm a proponent of the usage that Evan Prodromou decided to call (inaccurately) "weasel words", but I think that this essay makes an inadequate case for them. I feel like I've talked about this enough over in the "Avoid weasel words" discussion, but in summary:

Consider the line "War and Peace is widely regarded as Tolstoy's greatest novel". One could, with some work, no doubt find citations/quotations to support that statement, but there is no reason to require that someone do so. It's not a statement that anyone who knows anything about the field would dispute. I submit that any challenges you're likely to get to this statement here on wikipedia are the result of people who are attempting to mechanically apply a simple principle, but we're engaged with the problem of conveying information with language, and there are few simple principles that really work, even as a "rule of thumb".

I submit that anyone who likes the "Avoid Weasel Words" guidline should go read some actual encylopedia entries and play the game of counting the number of occurrences of what Prodromou decided to label "weasel words". This is an extremely useful idiom for many different reasons, and should not be demonized just because it can be misused. -- Doom (talk) 01:30, 26 October 2008 (UTC)

I still agree with what I said here a year ago, but I want to underline the point that even just calling this stuff "weasel words" has problems. It's an invented piece of terminology foisted on wikipedia by Evan Prodromou, it isn't in use anywhere else but here. What we're really talking about is something like "vague reference" or "indefinite reference"... if you let someone call that "weaseling" you're giving the game away. -- Doom (talk) 22:36, 25 January 2010 (UTC)


As an infrequent and minor editor, I found it difficult to understand the point, and point of view of this article, and found the levity of the earlier section distracting ( - Is this satirical?). The 'Mr Guy Who Isn't Famous' section was particularly baffling until I read the discussion. I gather this essay is part of a larger discussion, but it would be good if it were a little clearer. Bitbut (talk) 10:57, 22 November 2008 (UTC)

Vandalism? (and an excursion)[edit]

The following text looks very incongruent with the rest of the text in my eyes. Has someone vandalized the page? (Else a re-formulation may be needed to avoid misunderstandings:

A few Wikipedians, mistaken about the goals and principles of Wikipedia, have
written on this page that if “a belief is sufficiently prevalent, we shouldn't
let weaselphobia stop us from clearly saying so”, suggesting that they are the
ones to decide when a belief is “sufficiently prevalent”, and that weasel words
should be “embraced” even though they render the statements vague. Such
attitude arises from the inability, or unwillingness, to conduct appropriate
research on the topic:

As an aside, much of the controversy about weasel words arise because of the different forms and intents. Consider e.g. the following, hypothetical, statements and motivations:

"Some opponents claim X." is probably intended to point to an uncontroversial fact, while neither overstating/overgeneralizing ("Most ..."), nor understating, nor cluttering the text with unneeded references. The mere personal knowledge of the author of these opponents would often be enough. (Controversial claims may need different treatment. Further, specifically for Wikipedia the inclusion could still be inappropriate according to e.g. the relevance/notability rules.) This is, IMO, an acceptable, often even good, use.

"The suggestion met with heavy opposition.", on the other hand, may be a rhetorical trick to create an exaggerated view of the overall reaction. Bad use.

Other examples may be indicative of laziness or poor research. Bad use.

As is often (ahem...) the case, it is not the superficial symptoms, but the underlying diseases that pose problems: A temperature of a 100 degrees can come from a fever or from exercising; and even in the former case, attacking the disease rather than the temperature is typically (ahem...) the better road. (talk) 22:05, 22 May 2009 (UTC)