Language files: “chemical” edition

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One of the more curious features of modern life is seeing such phrases as “only contains real ingredients.” A recent example of this is a weed killer that is apparently “herbicide-free”.

Now, how do we define a herbicide? Here is how MacMillan define it: “a chemical used for killing weeds”. All rather curious. According to this definition a herbicide-free weed killer would be incapable of killing weeds. Fortunately Ben Goldsmith, one of the projects bank rollers, has informed us that it is a “chemical free weed killer.”

A chemical and herbicide free “weed killer.” If this is not the definition of snake oil I do not know what is not. Not that I imagine it is that bad, the Goldsmiths are a notoriously scientifically illiterate bunch after all. But perhaps the scientists behind the scheme could choose more rational backers. And perhaps we can actually improve our education system so that people like Goldsmith, who apparently went to Eton, one of Britain’s top “public” schools, from making fools out of themselves.


4 thoughts on “Language files: “chemical” edition

    Roddy Campbell said:
    February 18, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Not so fast … Ben is not being as illiterate as you think.

    If I understand it correctly (from conversations with an investor in the product) it kills weeds with heat, by pouring a foam on them, which is in essence hot water mixed with a biodegradable washing up liquid. The foam ensures the heat stays in contact with the weeds for long enough, whereas hot water would just run straight off.

    I guess you could call that a herbicide/chemical-free weedkiller. The idea is apply it between the rows of plants.

    (If you ask them the CO2 emissions, per acre of horticulture weeded, from the diesel used to heat the hot water, ……)


      Robert Wilson said:
      February 18, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Roddy, how exactly is this foam chemical free? It is either composed of chemicals or it does not exist.


        roddycampbell said:
        February 18, 2014 at 4:59 pm

        Indeed! Nothing is not chemical. Perhaps we should blame the potential consumers who think they want a “chemical free” substance in the first place. Ben has done his best to satisfy them, according to their understanding of language. 🙂


    johnrussell40 said:
    February 18, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    In the course of lifetime making films and commercials, I lost count of the times a client asked for the claim “contains no chemicals” to be included in the script. In the end I always persuaded them that “no harmful chemicals” was a stronger claim—and more accurate too.


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