Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

The average American is bombarded daily with more than 1,600 commercial messages and by more than 50 million by the time he or she reaches 60 years of age.

Many of these messages mislead by their use of weasel words, an expression that was born around 1900 and popularized by Theodore Roosevelt a century ago, in 1916. Weasels evince the nasty habit of sucking out the inside of a raw egg through a tiny hole. An unsuspecting person or animal picks up what appears to be an intact, meaty egg, only to find that there’s nothing left inside. Weasel words in advertising suck out the substance and nourishment of a claim, and, without breaking open the shell, leave a hollow message. Like the imperceptible hole in the sucked-out egg that the weasel has ravaged, weasel words are usually small.

Let’s start with the word helps, the sneakiest and most rapacious weasel of all. As William Lutz, who tracks down all manner of Doublespeak, points out, “Now, help only means ‘to aid or assist,’ nothing more. It does not mean ‘to conquer, stop, eliminate, end, solve, heal, cure’ or anything else. But once the ad says help, it can say just about anything after that because help qualifies everything coming after it. The trick is that the claim that comes after the weasel word is usually so strong and so dramatic that you forget the word help and concentrate only on the dramatic claim.”

Take “Slime Shampoo helps control dandruff.” Note that the ballyhoo doesn’t claim that Slime Shampoo stops dandruff, only that it controls the flakes to some extent. “Hacktabs help fight the symptoms of a cold.” Note again that no claim is asserted that Hacktabs actually cure colds, only that they help fight cold symptoms. Well, heck, even water can be said to “help fight the symptoms of a cold.”

Weasels exhibit a swift furtiveness that keeps them from being seen, but advertisers know where they live. “Everbright leaves dishes virtually spotless.” Does the mesmerized consumer really hear or see the weasel word virtually, which means almost?

“Crazy Eddie is selling all merchandise at up to 40 percent off.” Does the salivating shopper realize there may be only one item in Crazy Eddie’s store that is actually reduced by 40 percent? The trouble is that we hear and read so many weasel words that we tend to tune them out. Advertisers count on consumers overlooking qualifying words like help, virtually and up to and remember only the compelling language that follows.

Pitchpeople create illusions with tiny pronouns, such as it. Because pronouns are a part of speech that refers back to nouns, they are supposed to have antecedents, as in “After the dog ate, it took a nap.” But this rule is often violated in our ad, ad, ad, ad world: “Flakycrust does it better!” What, pray tell, does Flakycrust do? “Coke is it!” What is this it that Coke is? One can hear the weasel slinking from the scene, the meat of the pronoun hanging from its mouth.

Then there’s the little suffix -er . These two letters figure prominently in a device known as a dangling comparison. Just as the pronoun it may be missing a referent, the suffix -er often compares a product to nothing: “Crunchies stay fresh longer.” “Hammer headache remedy works faster.” “Belch Beer has fewer calories” (often cast as— gasp! — “less calories”). Longer than what? Faster than what? Fewer than what?, we are entitled to ask.

Finally, beware and be wary of weasly adjectives that promise something special about a product that isn’t special: “Tanko, the detergent gasoline” or “Boozie, the natural beer” or “Coke. It’s the real thing.” Careful inspection of such eviscerated messages reveals that every gasoline is a natural cleaning agent, that all beers are made from grains, water and other natural ingredients and that “the real thing” simply means that nothing more than that the product itself is that product. Keep both eyes out for such “water-is-wet” claims.

You owe it to yourself to learn to detect hucksters who have mastered the art of saying nothing at all. Become a savvy weasel watcher. Learn to identify weasel words so that you can protect yourself against the bait and switch for which they were designed. Do not underestimate the sneakiness of weasels. Weasels skulk in dark shadows and suck the substance out of our eggs, our language— and our pocketbooks.