Emotive conjugation

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In rhetoric, emotive or emotional conjugation mimics the form of a grammatical conjugation of an irregular verb to illustrate humans' tendency to describe their own behavior more charitably than the behavior of others.[1] It is often called the Russell conjugation in honour of philosopher Bertrand Russell who expounded the concept in 1948 on the BBC Radio programme The Brains Trust,[2] citing the examples:[3]

I am firm, You are obstinate, He is a pig-headed fool.

I am righteously indignant, you are annoyed, he is making a fuss over nothing.

I have reconsidered the matter, you have changed your mind, he has gone back on his word.

Used seriously, such loaded language[3] can lend false support to an argument by obscuring a fallacy of meaning. The inherent incongruity also lends itself to humor,[4] as employed by Bernard Woolley in the BBC television series Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister:[5][6]

It's one of those irregular verbs, isn't it?
I have an independent mind, You are eccentric, He is round the twist.[7]

That's another of those irregular verbs, isn't it?
I give confidential press briefings; you leak; he's being charged under section 2A of the Official Secrets Act.[8]


  1. ^ Ralph Henry Johnson, J. Anthony Blair (2006). Logical self-defense. p. 160 "The Freeloading Term". ISBN 978-1-932716-18-4. 
  2. ^ Robert Audi, ed. (1999). Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-521-63136-5. 
  3. ^ a b Douglas N. Walton (2006). Fundamentals of critical argumentation. Cambridge University Press. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-521-82319-7. 
  4. ^ Antony J. Chapman, Hugh C. Foot (1996). Humor and laughter: theory, research, and applications. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-56000-837-8. 
  5. ^ Jonathan Lynn, Antony Jay (1984). The Complete Yes Minister. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-20665-9. 
  6. ^ Jonathan Lynn, Antony Jay (1989). The Complete Yes Prime Minister. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-20773-6. 
  7. ^ Yes, Prime Minister: The Bishop's Gambit
  8. ^ Yes, Prime Minister: Man Overboard

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