Vagueness is the quality of an expression in language having an imprecise or indefinite meaning. Typically, a vague assertion may sound positive and garner agreement, even though upon closer examination, it may lack clear significance. Politicians use vague expressions to persuade people to share their opinions and identify with their proposals, even if they haven’t actually formulated any specific proposals. Precisely defined content would inevitably collect agreement from few and disagreement from many, so it’s not advantageous to be honest. Instead, it’s advantageous to make everyone believe they agree by using vague expressions that each person can interpret as they prefer. This is what, for example, the vague statements made on billboards during the 2006 election campaign do, as shown here: Political persuasion, or the advertisements for dietary products discussed here: Presuppositions; but the process is pervasive.

Here are some examples of vagueness from commercial advertisements. Note that, beyond the obvious appeal of the message, it remains practically impossible in all cases to establish what it refers to in reality; to which events, actions, objects:

Apple. Think different.

Nike. Just do it.

Audi. Above the fray

IKEA. We draw inspiration from people, we design solutions.

Microsoft. Your potential. Our passion.

Coca-Cola. Uncap happiness.

Samsung. Much more than a smartphone.

In the prose of politicians, the same process abounds. In all the cases we exemplify here below, neither the preceding discourse nor the following clarified to what the vague expressions referred. We add to each example the name of its author in parentheses, and (in bold type) our concise question that emphasizes the lack of clear outlines on which the message relies:

  • “I’m interested in getting one more vote than Renzi to do, I want to start doing from the government, not from the opposition.” (Salvini) – But do WHAT?
  • “We must say here that the past is not enough for us and the future is our home.” (Renzi) – WHAT about the past is not enough for us, and IN WHAT SENSE is the future “our home”?
  • “And so the Democratic Party in these elections has a crazy task, which is to go build bits of the future just while everyone tells us that Italy is finished…” (Renzi) – WHAT CONCRETE ACTIONS correspond to these “bits of the future”? WHO are these “everyone” who say that Italy is finished? FINISHED IN WHAT SENSE?
  • “We must dare, we must have the taste for challenge, the strength of the challenge, and we will be there for everyone.” (Salvini) – Here, one hardly even knows what to ask :-))
  • “Rebuilding trust and hope. Rebuilding a full and functioning constitutional democracy. Rebuilding a social pact and sustainable development. A new map of human, civil, social rights and at the same time new duties and responsibilities towards others.” (Bersani) – Okay, who can disagree: but then, WHAT do you want to do?
  • “Now a recovery for us already appears credible and possible, and I believe that our opponents feel that much is changing and that they themselves cannot stand still.” (Veltroni) – Recovery in what sense? What is changing? Not stand “still” about what?
  • “Who is at the bottom […] must be able to believe that the future is in their mind, in their heart, in their determination. And furthermore, if they fall, they must be able to find a safety net that saves them and allows them to start hoping again.” (Veltroni) – What are you talking about? What could this safety net consist of? Hope for what?
  • “Let’s say to all the women and men who wear a uniform […] that none of us will ever try to pull them by the jacket as has been done in this period.” (Renzi) – What do you mean precisely by “pull them by the jacket”? And who did it?