Loaded language (also known as loaded terms, emotive language, high-inference language and language-persuasive techniques) is rhetoric used to influence an audience by using words and phrases with strong connotations associated with them in order to invoke an emotional response and/or exploit stereotypes.
Loaded words and phrases have significant emotional implications and involve strongly positive or negative reactions beyond their literal meaning. For example, the phrase tax relief refers literally to changes that reduce the amount of tax citizens must pay. However, use of the emotive word relief implies that taxation is an inherently unreasonable burden. Another example of loaded language is the question, "Do you really want to associate with those people?", which implies a sense of disapproval from the speaker.[original research?][clarification needed]
It is purposed that some words cause feelings along a continuum, and that perhaps the "material" that is loaded (that is, the extra descriptive content "built into" the word or meaning of a word) can be defined: "loaded descriptivism is the view that the meaning of a slur has two components, a categorizing part and a supplementary evaluative part, which is a function of the categorization." In this sense, a racial slur could be thought of as: adding "and contemptible by virtue of being X" where X is the word/conceptual marker.
Another example of the "weight" of a word/how loaded it can be is the assertion that words play an important role in directing inductive generalization: when two appreciably different entities are referred to as “dogs” and one of the dogs is described as having a particular property (e.g., it has short bones), even young children are more likely to generalize this property to another dog than when the entities are referred to as “a dog” and “a cat”, or when no words are introduced.
Loaded terms, also called emotive or ethical words, were clearly described by Charles Stevenson. He noticed that there are words that do not merely describe a possible state of affairs. "Terrorist" is not used only to refer to a person who commits specific actions with a specific intent. Words such as "torture" or "freedom" carry with them something more than a simple description of a concept or an action. They have a "magnetic" effect, an imperative force, a tendency to influence the interlocutor's decisions. They are strictly bound to moral values leading to value judgments and potentially triggering specific emotions. For this reason, they have an emotive dimension. In the modern psychological terminology, we can say that these terms carry "emotional valence", as they presuppose and generate a value judgment that can lead to an emotion.
The appeal to emotion is in contrast to an appeal to logic and reason. Authors R. Malcolm Murray and Nebojša Kujundžić distinguish "prima facie reasons" from "considered reasons" when discussing this. An emotion, elicited via emotive language, may form a prima facie reason for action, but further work is required before one can obtain a considered reason.
Emotive arguments and loaded language are particularly[clarification needed] persuasive because they exploit the human weakness[clarification needed] for acting immediately based upon an emotional response, without such further considered judgment. Due to such potential for emotional complication, it is generally advised[by whom?] to avoid loaded language in argument or speech when fairness and impartiality is one of the goals. Anthony Weston, for example, admonishes students and writers: "In general, avoid language whose only function is to sway the emotions".
Politicians employ euphemisms, and study how to use them effectively: which words to use or avoid using to gain political advantage or disparage an opponent. Speechwriter and journalist Richard Heller gives the example that it is common for a politician to advocate "investment in public services," because it has a more favorable connotation than "public spending."
One aspect of loaded language is that loaded words and phrases occur in pairs, sometimes as political framing techniques by individuals with opposing agendas. Heller calls these "a Boo! version and a Hooray! version" to differentiate those with negative and positive emotional connotations. Examples include bureaucrat versus public servant, anti-abortion versus pro-life, regime versus government, and elitist versus expert.
The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning.
- Code word (figure of speech)
- Distancing language
- Dog-whistle politics
- Language of thought hypothesis
- Loaded question
- Persuasive definition
- Precising definition
- Symbol (formal)
- Thick concept
- Type–token distinction
- Variation (linguistics)
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