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Weasel Words


The Supreme Court ruled today that the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act does not apply in “reverse” cases—i.e., it does not protect a younger employee from being discriminated against in favor of an older one. Three justices—Kennedy, Scalia, and Thomas—dissented. Thomas’s dissent takes the majority to task for allowing “social history”—the majority’s phrase—to trump the statute’s plain meaning. This brings to mind F.A. Hayek’s wonderful discussion in The Fatal Conceit of the “weasel word ’social,’” so called because it sucks the meaning out of any word to which it is appended in a phrase. Thus, “social justice” is not really justice, “social security” is not really security, and so forth. Hayek even produces a list of 160 nouns he has found thus qualified by the word “social”—and, yes, “history” is one of them, meaning that such history is really not history at all.


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