Woo words – Watch out for these Red Flags


There are specific red-flag words that should trigger your bullshit alarm whenever you hear them. I’d recommend that you build up and keep your own list, but to ensure that you get the idea I’ll start you off with an initial list and take you through a few examples.

energy” – This is a word that is normally used to describe measurable well understood physical things such as sound, light, heat and electricity. Usage beyond that is an abuse of the word. Terms such as negative energy, chi energy, aura, psi or just a plain old energy-field do not describe anything real or measurable and have no meaning. Such usage is most commonly found within the context of the paranormal or alternative medicine, and when detected should set your bullshit meter buzzing, so keep an eye out for this one.

quantum” is an old favorite – Unless you happen to be engaged in a conversation with a theoretical physicist, then hearing this associated with some product or wild claim should put you on an immediate alert that what you are hearing about is simply crapology. Its usage outside its normal habitat is reason enough to be extremely wary. Its very popular; Google it and you get over 44 million hits including “quantum health”, “quantum-Touch Energy healing”, “Quantum Consciousness”, “quantum business school”, etc… It might sound impressive, but when used like this, it usually relates to some form of woo that you should consider being wary of.

natural” – Now this one has been rattling about for a few decades; but what does it actually mean? As a bit of marketing hype it sounds great. The thought of selecting a natural offering in contrast to a chemically saturated substitute would lead you to think that the “natural” choice is a superior healthier offering. However, before you make that assumption, consider this. Substances that are “natural” include mercury, arsenic, plague, MRSA, the flu virus and many other similar quite deadly alternatives. On the other hand, engineered compounds have been designed to be effective, safe, and have been clinically tested to prove that they will do no harm. In other words, a “natural” branding is just marketing hype. While it might imply a healthier option, it does not in any way mean that it is.

Organic” – Very much in vogue and marketed as a superior, more expensive, and far healthier alternative. Why? The nutritional value within a plant is determined by its genetic structure. Plants gain what they need from the soil and any fertilizer given. If what it needs is missing, it does not grow. Using natural manure or an artificial fertilizer makes no difference, it grows just the same with perhaps slight variances in its mineral content. Pesticide residue is harmless and is not a health risk. Organic is not safer or more nutritious, its just more expensive, that’s all.

OK, thats hard for some to accept … so try this quote …

Consumers may choose to buy organic fruit, vegetables and meat because they believe them to be more nutritious than other food. However, the balance of current scientific evidence does not support this view” – UK Food Standards Agency

The are lots more words that can be added to this list, so if anybody out there has a few tips, feel free to drop a few comments. The above are just a few examples to get you going, so all you need to do is to extend it by adding your own, and over time it will build up into a quite comprehensive bullshit filter. Here are a few more suggestions. Be wary of “Western Medicine” being used as a derogatory term and also the phrase “Alternative Medicine” should set alarm bells ringing in your mind. As observed by Tim Minchin in his wonderful “Storm”, the correct term for “Alternative Medicine” that actually works is “Medicine”.

How about “detoxify”, “crystal healing” and “vibrations”. Sigh! yes sadly it just goes on and on, its a truly endless list. Over time the actual buzz words may change, but the underlying intent of befuddling you with meaningless sound bites remains the same, so ….

Be Skeptical.

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