Close-Knit — Weasel Words? or is it a cliché?

200px-Weasel_words.svgI was trying to think of description to describe something that had been a bit of an irritation and came across the phrase “weasel words” in a post on a blog, Shades of Crimson, by Davina Haisell.  The phrase sort of fits what I was looking for.  Wikipedia describes weasel words as “equivocating words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that something specific and meaningful has been said.”

It’s probably just a cliché, though, “an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has become overused to the point of losing its original meaning, or effect, and even, to the point of being trite or irritating, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel” (Wikipedia).

Every time there is a tragedy somewhere, the media overuses phrases to the point that they’ve become trite and meaningless — to us, anyhow.  One phrase in particular stands out.

We were watching a story on the evening news on Tuesday about the impact the loss of 19 firefighters was having on Prescott, Arizona.  It’s a terrible tragedy, for sure, but my point is about the reporting.  Before the anchor and field reporter got very far into it, I snidely commented, “Close-knit community.”  Sure enough, near the end of the news piece, the reporter made some comment that included “close-knit community.” The phrase seems  to be included in the reporting nearly every time something bad happens to U.S. communities.

Image1The phrase may not be weasel words, but it’s trite, meaningless, and, at least this time, predictable.

Meaningless?  Well, Prescott, Arizona has a population of nearly 40,000 and covers an area of 41.51 sq mi (107.52 km2).  A person could go for days on end there without running into many people he knows.

In a 2009 BBC discussion on News clichés, a commenter said it well: “Whenever there’s a live report from a small town or village where there’s been an incident, the cliche that’s invariably trotted out is ‘tonight this close knit community is in shock’. Where is this mythical close-knit community? Every person is in shock? That would look mighty weird. News reporting is becoming so lazy.”

Merriam Webster defines close-knit as “bound together by intimate social or cultural ties or by close economic or political tie.”

Few towns or cities would meet this definition in the modern USA of automobiles, television, internet and smart phones.

Close-knit in these stories is an empty phrase, a cliché — just a couple of weasel words.

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