Emotive conjugation

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In rhetoric, emotive or emotional conjugation (also known as Russell's conjugation)[1] 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.[2]

Used seriously, such loaded language can lend false support to an argument by obscuring a fallacy of meaning.[3]


It is often called Russell's conjugation[1] in honour of philosopher Bertrand Russell, who expounded the concept in 1948 on the BBC Radio programme The Brains Trust,[4] 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.

The inherent incongruity also lends itself to humor,[5] as employed by Bernard Woolley in the BBC television series Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister:[6][7]

It's one of those irregular verbs, isn't it?
I have an independent mind, You are eccentric, He is round the twist.[8]

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.[9]


  1. ^ a b Hartman, Robert S. (2002). The Knowledge of Good: Critique of Axiological Reason. Rodopi. p. 207. ISBN 978-90-420-1220-2.
  2. ^ Ralph Henry Johnson, J. Anthony Blair (2006). Logical self-defense. p. 160 "The Freeloading Term". ISBN 978-1-932716-18-4.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b Douglas N. Walton (2006). Fundamentals of critical argumentation. Cambridge University Press. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-521-82319-7.
  4. ^ Robert Audi, ed. (1999). Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-521-63136-5.
  5. ^ Antony J. Chapman, Hugh C. Foot (1996). Humor and laughter: theory, research, and applications. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-56000-837-8.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  6. ^ Jonathan Lynn, Antony Jay (1984). The Complete Yes Minister. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-20665-9.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  7. ^ Jonathan Lynn, Antony Jay (1989). The Complete Yes Prime Minister. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-20773-6.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  8. ^ Yes, Prime Minister: The Bishop's Gambit
  9. ^ Yes, Prime Minister: Man Overboard

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