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Weasel words and conversations of the deaf

Weasel words and conversations of the deaf

The talk this week, led by Mr Henderson, began with an interactive activity, aimed at getting sleepy scholars off the benches and moving around the theatre. For a starter task, students were required to interpret the true meanings of different, misleading phrases posted around the walls of theatre. The primary aim was for us to cut through the smoke and mirrors of marketing and to root out the bare truth behind the slogans and empty phrases. All of this intense activity took place to the sounds of Mr Henderson’s latest favourite songs, most frequently played being “Anywhere” by Rita Ora, which continued playing in our heads many hours later!

After interpreting a total of 20 phrases, pairs of students then presented each one of the phrases, explaining briefly its true meaning to the rest of the scholars. Following on from this, Mr Henderson then explained the meaning of weasel words: to keep the “shell” of a word while sucking out its real meaning and explored whether the misuse of language was becoming more common. In his view, he believed that weasel words had always been prevalent in society and even at the highest levels of government. Most famously, Bill Clinton’s, “it depends on what the meaning of the word “is” is,” was cited, as well, of course, as the wayward words of President Trump.

After this exploration and explanation, we explored the idea of “conversations with the deaf”: dialogues with people who do not really recognise the other person’s response to their own comments, but who instead choose to deliberately not hear. A humorous example used to illustrate this point came from a clip of Fawlty Towers.

The talk concluded that, unfortunately, weasel words and conversations with the deaf are now part of daily life, and that care should be taken with our use and misuse of language. A final interactive activity focusing on each person’s favourite weasel word or phrase concluded a surprisingly interactive (for a Saturday morning that is!) and interesting scholar’s talk.

Alex Kitchen, Y12 Academic Scholar