Friday, February 13, 2009


Some buzzwords catch on because they deliberately vague and therefore can be used without any consequence. It’s the art of saying something and saying nothing at the same time.

One such term that seems increasingly frequent wherever empty promises are being made is “robust.” It is a non-specific word by definition. If a person is robust, for example, he/she is generally strong, healthy and full of vigour, but not in any measurable sense.

On Friday, February 13, 2009, Canwest News Service reported an anecdote in Canada-U.S. relations that showed how easy it is to use the impressive-sounding “robust” to sidestep skepticism. Specifically, the story told how Robert Gibbs, the White House’s press secretary:

… was put in the position of trying to talk up the importance of Obama’s visit to Ottawa after an American reporter suggested that first meetings between the leaders of Canada and the U.S. have “traditionally been little more than a celebration of continental solidarity.”

Gibbs insisted Harper and Obama would have a “robust” agenda.

“I think international security will come up. I think you’ll hear a discussion on energy, as the president talked about when meeting with regional reporters earlier in the week. I think the agenda, which we’ll have more on, will be robust and include any number of topics, ranging from economic security to international security.”

Not only does “robust” not mean “multifaceted,” but it is also used here without having to back it up with any firm commitments.

Whether or not the U.S. president discusses the listed topics with Stephen Harper during their upcoming visit, Gibbs’ earlier response to the reporter will handily avoid scrutiny. Indeed, no matter what transpires between the leaders, White House staff can afterwards claim it was “robust”—because no one else can prove it wasn’t.


  1. Have you seen this story from the Globe?

    It seems in keeping with the spirit of this blog.

  2. I hadn't seen that one in particular, but I usually do enjoy reading his columns in the Globe ... certainly like-minded in many ways ....