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Is there a term to describe phrases such as: "it is well known that," "most people believe that," or "it is often thought that?"

I see these phrases used when someone tries to present their opinion as an accepted fact even when their argument is not supported by fact.

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Channel markers for stuff that should be checked before being accepted? –  dmckee Oct 14 '11 at 20:10
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7 Answers

I would characterize such generalizations as trite.

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I would call them bold statements or sweeping generalisations.

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These phrases are all similar in that they might be used to persuade someone through the false reasoning that if a majority believe something or hold it to be true, that thing must therefore be credible or true.

Andrew is right; this is a logical fallacy. As for a name, I like "bandwagon fallacy".

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It is actually a logical fallacy called "appeal to the majority". Fallacious is a good description, although I like weasel words and unsubstantiated generalizations as well.

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Your question describes the phrases very well: generalizations. An opinion not backed up by fact is an unsubstantiation. "His arguments are full of unsubstatiations."

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I've seen "deadwood phrases" used to discribe such phrases that add nothing to the meaning and could (and should) be removed (like dead wood) from the sentence. Although I would suggest that "It is often thought that" isn't necessarily one such phrase as it indicates that a contrary opinion is going to be asserted. As in "It is often thought that Picasso was French, although he was Spanish" - the phrase adds something to the sentence beyond simply stating: "Picasso was Spanish".

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Wikipedia calls them "weasel words", which is as good a term as any. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_word for a good description.

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Possibly, but 'weasel words' is used rather more widely. –  Barrie England Oct 14 '11 at 8:12
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