"Weasel words" come to us from the advertising industry-the lower echelons of it, that is, if you prefer, the bottom feeders. These are words that say nothing but imply everything. They are used extensively during election campaigns and in the promotion of "health" foods and a lot of "alternative" medicines.
Words being what they are, universal in nature, it was only a matter of time before weasel words began showing up in dimensional and other fields of metrology. It appears that the onslaught began when more companies began insisting that their calibration sources have some form of accreditation. Even today, those without appropriate accreditation seem to be among the most prolific users of these words.
Advertisements for calibration services and calibration reports often provide great examples.
n I am looking at a certificate that says the gage it covers-which is not specifically identified-has been "...inspected ...using procedures and equipment in accordance with..." and an ANSI standard is listed. Most impressive for the unwary.
The reality is that the standard quoted does not indicate what equipment or procedures are to be used for such calibration. It does specify that measurement uncertainty should be listed, which has not been done in this case.
n NIST certificate is a phrase I also enjoy seeing especially when it only adds $10 or $20 to a product price. This appears to be a bargain compared to what I pay when the folks at NIST do work for my company. The implication is that the certificate being offered is from NIST. When questioned, you'll be told it means the certificate is traceable to NIST. And if you really dig into it, you'll often find there is considerable distance and many hands before you get to an original NIST report.
n "All measurements are made in strict accordance with..." and usually an irrelevant standard is cited. The words "strict accordance" have an authoritative ring to them. Alas, while the statement may be true, what you really need to know is whether or not any relevant standard has been met.
n "We are an ISO/IEC 17025 accredited laboratory and also are ISO 9001 registered." This company seems quite modest by not mentioning who accredited or registered them. Or could it be that if the world knew who did it, they may not buy the company's products, particularly when a laboratory that is correctly accredited to ISO-IEC 17025 does not need to be registered to ISO 9000 standards, including the obsolete one listed.
n "Certified to NIST." This and other variations on the NIST theme must have the good folks there fuming. I am not sure what "certified to NIST" means. I should caution the reader that I do not have a degree in English, so maybe there is something to this statement that I'm missing.
I also have seen these words changed to "NIST certified" which implies that NIST certified the laboratory, or maybe they mean the procedures or maybe both-or maybe it doesn't mean anything. As far as I know, NIST doesn't certify laboratories or their procedures. The National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) does offer laboratory accreditation. If someone is accredited by NVLAP, it is clearly stated.
Maybe folks use the NIST certified phrase to make you think they are NVLAP accredited because if they said "NVLAP accredited" and this wasn't true, they would end up in a mess of legal problems. Possibly they have a master of some sort that has been calibrated by NIST and are trying to spin that to cover up the fact they are not accredited. Or maybe their master was calibrated by someone else who was traceable to NIST via their masters, which in turn were calibrated by someone using masters that actually were calibrated by NIST.
Have you ever read two words with so many possibilities? Now you know why I love weasel words. Trying to figure out what they really mean is a great way to keep you on top of your game or should I say keep you sharp or perhaps at the edge or maybe at the cutting edge or maybe... You know what I mean.
Hill Cox is president of
Frank J. Cox Sales Ltd. (Brampton, Ontario, Canada.)
He may be reached at