Watson’s Dictionary of Weasel Words, Contemporary Cliches, Cant & Management Jargon

Weasel words are the words of the powerful, the treacherous and the unfaithful, spies, assassins and thieves. Bureaucrats and ideologues love them. Tyrants cannot do without them. The Newspeak of Orwell’s 1984 is an invention, but also a satire on real states such as the Soviet Union where death from starvation and abuse in slave camps was recorded by officials as ‘failure of the heart muscle’. Were any five words ever more melancholy than this? – excerpt from introduction to the book by the Author Don Watson

The following are some examples of “Weasel Words” found in Watson’s Dictionary of Weasel Words, Contemporary Cliches, Cant & Management Jargon.

This book will unfortunately remain relevant for many years if not decades.

Collateral damage
1. Damage to collateral.
2. Damage to innocent people.

Also colloquially in politics, business, sport, personal relationships.

‘Broadly defined, collateral damage is unintentional damage or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment or personnel occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities. Such damage can occur to friendly, neutral, and even enemy forces.’
USAF Intelligence Targeting Guide, 1998

Energised fence

Description of 9000 volt fence on plan of Baxter Detention Centre, South Australia.

‘No, it is not an electric fence … It is an energised fence.’
Deputy Secretary, Department of Immigration

Fully Job Network Eligible Job Seekers

Unemployed persons.

‘This table refers only to Fully Job Network Eligible Job Seekers aged between 18-49 years in receipt of Youth or Newstart Allowance.’
Department of Employment and Workplace Relations

Known Knowns

1. Things we know we know.
2. Things we know we made up.
3. Things we forgot we made up.
4. Things we forgot we knew.

‘As we know, there are no known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.’
Donald Rumsfeld

Light up/Lit up

(US military) To shoot dead.

We fired some warning shots. They didn’t slow down. So we lit them up.
Q: Lit up? You mean you fired machine guns?
A: Right. Every car that we lit up we were expecting ammunition to go off. But we never heard any … With us being trigger happy, we didn’t really give this guy much of a chance. We lit him up pretty good.’
Discharged US Marine

Negative Patient Outcome

Bed sores, amputation, golden staph, etc. while a client of a hospital or nursing home. The Times (UK) once reported that the term was used to describe death. Also negative care outcome.

Smart Bomb

Bomb, guided by laser or Global Positioning Satellite. ‘Precision’ bomb; one that limits collateral damage.

Clever, bright, quick-witted, quick-on-its-feet bomb; elegant, stylish, smart but casual, etc.

‘The GAO study concluded that, on average, it took four smart bombs to hit a target. In 20 percent of the cases, it took at least six bombs; in 15 percent, at least eight.’
Fred Kaplan, Boston Globe, February 1998


One response to “Watson’s Dictionary of Weasel Words, Contemporary Cliches, Cant & Management Jargon”

  1. I have just listened to Don Watson talking on the ABC so I went looking and found you. I am developing an allergy to all these crap words that say other than what they mean. I remember one of my Regional Managers telling us once that we were getting up to speed: we spent the next 24 hours wondering why we were going to Speed, a little town south west of Ouyen in Vic.
    Thanks for the opportunity — I will keep in touch.

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