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Weasel Words

Matt Schudel

Well, it's been a busy two days here on the obits desk. On Friday, I completed the Local Life of Paul Wasserman -- a librarian who founded the University of Maryland's College of Information Studies (as it's now called, to his chagrin). More about that in a moment.

On Saturday, I wrote the obituary of Watergate burglar Bernard L. Barker, who was one of five men arrested at the Democratic Committee national headquarters on June 17, 1972. Of course, Watergate is a big deal here at The Washington Post, as Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and a host of other reporters and editors unraveled the twisted tale of deceit and corruption that eventually led to the Oval Office.

Barker -- a former undercover operative for the CIA who helped lead the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 -- was one interesting dude, if I do say so myself....

Despite his name, he was Cuban (his father was an American who settled in Havana), and not only did he never apologize for Watergate -- "the only felony I was ever convicted of" -- he was proud of it. I wasn't at the Post during Watergate, but I did live in South Florida for quite a few years, and I'm well aware of the atmosphere of political intrigue and suspicion in the world of Cuban emigres. It's not at all surprising to me that one of the reasons Barker gave for getting involved in Watergate was that he believed it would somehow help him topple Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba.

Okay, now back to Paul Wasserman ...
Besides being a world-renowned librarian, he wrote several books late in life, including "Weasel Words: The Dictionary of American Doublespeak," with Don Hausrath. Wasserman hated cant in all its forms, including changing the name of the "School of Library and Information Services" to the "College of Information Studies." He delighted in skewering the pretensions of journalists and academics by pointing out the hypocrisy and foolishness of the jargon we so often use.

Here are few choice examples:
Free world: "A hackneyed political slogan for that group of nations whose sympathies are allied to American interests, whether their citizens enjoy freedom or are ruled by despots."

Meaningful dialogue: "A press officer's term making the fact that nothing was accomplished during the meeting."

Just war: "The phrase used by self-defined patriots for any armed conflict in which their nation is engaged."

Extremist: "Anyone whose thinking about a current government policy is different from the prevailing position."

Statesman: "A politican who has left office by reason of age or electoral defeat who continues to serve on commissions and boards that that issue observations unheeded both at home and abroad."

Re-engineered: "A former position (yours) has been moved from its former place in the company structure. In fact, the position has been shifted to the Dumpster outside. In short, you're fired."

By Matt Schudel  |  June 7, 2009; 7:27 AM ET
Categories:  Matt Schudel  
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