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What Is Wooden Language?

Wooden language refers to speech or writing that's stiff, overly formal, or lacking in clarity and genuine substance. It's often riddled with jargon, clichés, and abstract terms that obscure meaning rather than convey it. Have you ever felt lost in a thicket of wooden language? Discover how to spot and avoid it, transforming your communication into something truly alive.
Angela Farrer
Angela Farrer

Wooden language is a certain type of rhetoric that consists of vague words and an underlying purpose of maintaining political correctness, often at the expense of finding true solutions to specific problems. These kinds of ambiguous words sometimes are used in the speeches of national leaders who are in charge of authoritarian governments, and the overall impression on the listeners is one of false significance. Other characteristics of wooden language frequently include high rates of subjectivity and the use of at least one key weasel word intended to appeal to listeners' emotions or fears rather than their rationality.

The main aim of a speech with wooden language is usually to persuade with the same basic technique of logical rhetoric, but without the depth of meaning or even of sincerity. Phrases used in this type of language are often banal and address tangential subjects rather than any important issues. Leaders who use wooden language in this context frequently have goals of distracting their audiences with this type of speech in order to keep them from questioning the leaders' decisions. This type of distraction is often successful because it addresses listeners' worries about real or perceived threats to the security of their countries.

Ambiguous language is often used in certain forms of propaganda.
Ambiguous language is often used in certain forms of propaganda.

Ambiguous words in this type of language are sometimes compared to those used in certain forms of propaganda. This language often has the purpose of getting listeners to follow along unquestioningly with a certain agenda or belief system. The exact patterns that wooden language follows can vary from one speaker to the next, but the general feeling of the words is one that seems hollow and artificial.

A weasel word is a noticeable characteristic of wooden language because it is usually a word that elicits a desired response from an audience of attentive listeners. Weasel words are frequently used along with couching terms such as "up to" or "generally" in order to avoid statements that could potentially alienate some listeners. Alienating any members of an audience is a situation that most wooden language speakers avoid whenever possible in the name of political correctness. These kinds of phrases with weasel words can sometimes be subtle due to their purpose of creating a false impression of importance. The particular term "weasel word" can be traced to a figure of speech that first appeared in some of William Shakespeare's plays and was intended to compare a given speech to an empty egg shell after a weasel had eaten its contents.

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    • Ambiguous language is often used in certain forms of propaganda.
      By: Kent Wang
      Ambiguous language is often used in certain forms of propaganda.