Is there a term used for statements made by politicians (and others) that are nebulous and allow people to infer what they want from them?

For example, politicians speak about "Christian values", "family values", and "American values", but often seem to purposefully ignore giving examples which would precisify which values they are talking about. Or they speak about "making America great", without explaining what this greatness would consist in.

This vagueness seems like a rhetorical trick which allows listeners to project their own fantasies into the words of the speaker.

Is there a name for this kind of rhetorical device? Is there a term for these kinds of statements?

Glancing through Wikipedia's glossary of rhetorical terms does not seem to provide an answer.


This article in The Independent newspaper discusses how politicians use weasel words like :

[...] 'robust', 'remnants' and 'anecdotal' [... etc ...] to hide or mislead [...] and obscure terrible truths.

Here is an snippet but I recommend reading whole article:

"Remnants" in certain contexts has had a bad smell ever since US spokesmen started employing it after the invasion of Iraq in 2003: in phrases such as "remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime" or "remnants of al-Qa'ida". It was useful in trying to explain away how enemies that the US army claimed to have eliminated were still very much in business, blowing up American troops and generally creating mayhem. 

And finally regarding the definition:

weasel word (also, anonymous authority) is an informal term for words and phrases aimed at creating an impression that a specific and/or meaningful statement has been made, when only a vague or ambiguous claim has been communicated, enabling the specific meaning to be denied if the statement is challenged — Wikipedia


I would call such uses of language simply rhetoric, which has developed a pejorative sense:

"language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content" (here; my emphasis).

You could also use empty rhetoric for emphasis, as suggested by @AmI below.

  • 2
    'Empty rhetoric' might be more to the point.
    – AmI
    Jun 7 '16 at 21:39


the use of language that is wordy or needlessly complicated, and often meaningless. [emphasis added]



1: the quality or state of being dull or insipid

His speech was filled with familiar platitudes about the value of hard work and dedication.

"Platitude." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 7 June 2016.


a statement that is intended to make people feel happier or calmer but that is not original or effective

His speech had nothing more to offer than the usual bromides about how everyone needs to work together.

"Bromide." Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 7 June 2016.


Vague promises would be fine.


adjective 1. Not clearly or fully explained.
"The politicians made vague promises about independence"

Usage example: "Vague Promises of Debt Relief for Greece", The New York Times


I like "empty rhetoric" suggested by @Silenus.

My suggestion is not the name of the rhetorical device. But, when a politician speaks about their unrealistic and ideal target to achieve during their political term without giving concrete details such as strategy and proven track records or results, you could consider saying

That's politics talking (, not X).

Actual usage:

On Monday June 2, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a regulation that would cut carbon pollution from power plants up to 30 percent by 2030. Within hours, House Speaker John Boehner delivered his response: “The president’s plan is nuts. There’s really no more succinct way to describe it.” But that’s politics talking, not science or known results.


Fast forward to today, and that same bank is begging to give the money back. The chairman offers to write a check, now, with interest. He's been sitting on the cash for months and has felt the dead hand of government threatening to run his business and dictate pay scales. He sees the writing on the wall and he wants out. But the Obama team says no, since unlike the smaller banks that gave their TARP money back, this bank is far more prominent. The bank has also been threatened with "adverse" consequences if its chairman persists. That's politics talking, not economics.

[The Wall Street Journal]

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