In its continuing search for relevance in the modern age, Newsweek decided to run with a cover story designed not only to be provocative but to hearken back to one of their previously provocative headlines from two decades ago (that, assumably, sold a lot of magazines for them). In case you haven't heard, Newsweek is calling Mitt Romney a "wimp." Actually, they are themselves wimping out, because they don't even directly make this assertion on their cover; they instead speak of the "wimp factor" and then further obscure the charge by using the question format instead of a simple declaration: "Romney: The Wimp Factor -- Is He Just Too Insecure To Be President?" A much stronger headline, and more in keeping with the fifth-grade-playground nature of the insult, would have been: "Romney Is A Wimp And Therefore Will Not Be Elected President." This is but a minor quibble, however, as the article itself does indeed call Romney not only a "wimp" but a "weenie." I would respectfully suggest, however, that another "W word" is far more appropriate in describing Mitt Romney: "weasel."
Using animal names for human insults and praise is, of course, an ancient tradition. The weasel family has members within it who are used for high purposes and low in this fashion, from denoting wealth and royalty (sable, ermine), to playfulness (otter), to outright insult (polecat). Some even have crossover uses, such as denoting both wealth and sexual prowess (mink). One was used, even before the comic book antihero, to represent both vicious fearlessness and the sports teams of the University of Michigan (wolverine). Ironically, there are even two weasel family members that are used as examples of digging out the truth via hard questioning (ferret and badger). One poor member of family Mustelidae even recently got kicked out, forced to form a family of its own, because nobody likes a skunk at the party.
Getting back to weasels, my dictionary informs me that using "weasel" as an insult (a "weasel word") stems from the critter's propensity to suck eggs. No, seriously: "The weasel's reputed habit of sucking the contents out of an egg while leaving the shell superficially intact." This is why weasel words are used "in order to evade or retreat from a direct or forthright statement or position." My dictionary is fairly old, so there was no actual photo of Mitt Romney next to this definition (ahem), but for the life of me I cannot come up with any better description of his candidacy. Indeed, Mitt has been evading and retreating from just about any direct or forthright statements or positions during his entire campaign.
Wimps and weenies shirk a fight. That's the basic definition (although "weenie" leaves a bit of... um... wiggle room, shall we say). If you are challenged and you back down, you are considered to be (again, on that fifth-grade playground) a wimp. Another animal-based insult springs to mind as a synonym (one previously innocently used to refer to cats), but because it is generally considered outside the bounds of polite conversation, we will refrain from being any more specific.
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