Vehemently meaningless

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Image: Merriam-Webster

Next time you hear that someone is “vehemently” denying that they did something, ask yourself — how is that different from a regular denial?

Here’s a thought experiment.

There are two politicians. Both are accused of taking bribes.

Allan says he denies taking the bribes.

Bertrand vehemently denies taking the bribes.

Which one do you believe?

Now evidence comes out that proves the politicians were guilty.

Do you give Allan credit for yes, denying that he did it, but less vehemently than Bertrand did? Does Bertrand get extra ridicule for his vehement denials?

Or do you see both as equally guilty?

Denials are denials. Vehemence has no meaning, and is not more convincing. But we always seem to need to report it.

Vehement denials in the news

“I hate the crime [the killing of Jamal Khashoggi], I hate the cover-up. I will tell you this: The crown prince hates it more than I do, and they have vehemently denied it.” — Donald Trump

The Tampa Bay Times issued a report on Tuesday detailing texts that show the Democratic candidate for Florida governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, received a free ticket to the Broadway show “Hamilton” as a gift from an FBI agent posing as a developer. Gillum vehemently denies the report.

The president’s daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump, openly opposed her father’s rhetoric and policy Thursday, saying that the media is “not … the enemy of the people” and that she is “vehemently against” family separation at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Music mogul Russell Simmons, who has denied a dozen sexual assault allegations with a #NotMe social-media campaign, issued another vigorous rejection of “horrific” allegations on Tuesday, claiming he’s being extorted.  “I vehemently deny all these allegations,” he said in a lengthy statement issued by his rep, Eric Rose. “These horrific accusations have shocked me to my core and all of my relations have been consensual.

“We have not uncovered a single document that would in any way corroborate the dossier’s allegations regarding Mr. Cohen [Donald Trump’s former lawyer], nor do we believe that any such document exists,” wrote the lawyer, Stephen M. Ryan. “Mr. Cohen vehemently denies the claims made in the dossier about him, which are false and remain wholly unsubstantiated.”

The spate of disappearances from the Gay Village [Toronto] in recent years had led many to speculate that a serial killer might be at work. But police denied that there was any evidence to suggest that this was the case. Why, some are now asking, were police so vehement in their denial, even months after they reportedly began investigating McArthur? And would their response have been swifter or more thorough had the victims not been, as they all were, gay or people of colour, homeless or addicted to drugs?

Be smart

I would like to know about repeated denials, sure. If they denied it four different ways, well, that tells me something. But what are we to make of vehement denials?

Leave the vehement denials out of your writing. A denial is a denial, regardless of the volume with which it is made.

When you read about vehement denials, beware. They are no more likely to be true than any other kind of denial. Guilty people are vehement all the time.

Only a credulous fool accepts denials just because they are vehement.

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