The uses of weasels
Words are tricky little things. Depending on inflection and context it’s possible to insult someone horrifically in such a fashion that you know it was an insult, they know it was an insult, everyone else knows it was an insult and yet, officially, it wasn’t, and if called on it you can deny that it was one at all.
Politicians and journalists thrive on this. It’s Churchill (was it Churchill?) coining the ever-popular phrase ‘economical with the truth’, or Ian Hislop and Paul Merton on Have I Got News For You, years ago, reeling off huge lists of scandalous charges and adding “- allegedly” at the end, thus making it all okay.
In academia, where people generally do not hate the people with whom they’re vehemently disagreeing, weasel-wording is encouraged for two reasons: first, academic respect – it’s plain bad manners to say “Critic A’s argument makes no sense and is rubbish” in so few words – and second, plausible deniability, which is handy when the argument you’re contesting is your professor’s.
Here follows a handy print-out-and-keep list of helpful academic weasels. No responsibility is taken for bad marks, expulsion, injuries or death occurring as a direct or indirect result of their use.
Write _____ about a critic, when you actually think _____:
Despite Critic A’s argument, X and Y seem only tenuously connected The connection between X and Y exists only in Critic A’s fevered imagination
Critic A’s assertion that [X] seems unlikely, on balance [X] is so obviously not the case it’s not even funny
Critic A’s argument is somewhat far-fetched Critic A’s argument bears no relation to anything even distantly connected to reality
Critic A’s argument fails to take into account the nuances of the text Critic A’s argument reads like they haven’t actually opened the book
This reading invalidates Critic A’s argument that [X] This reading shows Critic A’s argument up for the rubbish it is
Reading X seems dubious at best Only a space alien would seriously think X was right
One must take issue with Critic A’s assertion that [X] One would demand to know what Critic A was smoking were they still alive
It’s also useful to have some weasel-tastic words in hand to apply to the texts themselves, as every literature student will sooner or later have to write about a canonical text that they nonetheless despise.
Describe a work as ____, if your real opinion is _____:
Sentimental in places Drowning in schmaltz
Maintains the conventions of its genre Cliché-ridden
Difficult Absolutely bastardly hard
Dense Completely incomprehensible
Esoteric Looks suspiciously as if they pulled it out of the air
Obscure The anonymity it has remained in for so many years was thoroughly deserved
Unorthodox Breaks with convention for no other reason than to be annoying
Employs frequent symbolism Author has delusions of being Dan Brown
Radical adaptation Travesty
Relies on traditional narrative formulae Hasn’t an original bone in its body
Somewhat didactic Anvilicious
Overly moralistic More Anvilicious than an anvil sandwich with a side of anvils
Has a strong moral message . . . And absolutely nothing else
Self-consciously literary About to implode under the weight of its own pretentiousness
Populist Appeals to the lowest common denominator
Exhibits the values of its era Would be denounced as bigoted trash were it published today
Deals unflinchingly with issue X Lingers lovingly on graphic depictions of X until you start to wonder if the author is trying to tell you something
Technically brilliant All style and no content
Mediocre Worse than The Da Vinci Code would have been had it been co-written by Bulwer-Lytton and William McGonagall
Practically unreadable Even opening it to the first page will make your eyes melt screaming from their sockets
Unreadable . . .