Bronze-level articleLoaded language

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Loaded language is language intended to produce an emotional response in the mind of the audience, in order to directly affect their views on a topic.

The use of loaded language confers certain qualities to a statement that often amount to an emotional appeal. "Liberal", for instance, may be (and often is) used among Conservatives in the United States as an insult, implying that the person so-labeled disregards normal moral standards. The true meaning of such a term often becomes obscured due to the prevalence of the coded meaning.

When the meaning is intentionally obfuscated in order to disparage a particular minority or belief without raising an alarm among those who would be offended by the meaning, it is sometimes called dog whistle politics, after the idea (often not actually true) that the out-group can't hear the meaning in the hidden message behind the words. Whether or not the out-group gets it, the in-group knows exactly what is meant by the code. For example, in certain settings in US politics, claiming to be "tough on crime" might be intended to subtly convey or take advantage of racism. Code words and dog whistle politics often use loaded language to convey their meaning to the in-group.


[edit] Examples of loaded language in politics

  • The "First home buyer's scheme" in Australia might equally well have been called "The house price support scheme" - reflecting the effect of giving free money to home buyers with which to buy homes, which is simply that house prices uptick by precisely that amount.
  • The abortion debate invariably evokes emotionally charged language and questionable analogies. Opponents of abortion describe it as "child murder" or "infanticide", and describe themselves as "pro-life", implying a false dichotomy in which those who do not agree with them are seen as being opposed to life itself. Similarly, the pro-choice side couches its language in terms of freedom in general, a strong element in the American mythos, deflecting as much attention from the specific freedom of abortion as possible.
  • "Class warfare" is another one. While one might imagine it as double-sided affair, the reality is much different—meaning, it invokes negative images of filthy, lazy laborers attacking hardworking rich folks. In recent years, especially with the advent of OWS, it's now a cop-out against criticism and tax hikes for the rich. Many conservative pundits use the term to explain the war against the "job creators", not realizing they are invoking arguments penned by Karl Marx every time they do.
  • "States' rights" is a loaded term, because it has been used politically to raise race as a wedge issue. While it's occasionally mentioned by libertarians for other reasons, it's still heavily associated with racism elsewhere.
  • "Affirmative action" is also a loaded term, and is frequently used to disparage the achievements of non-whites, e.g. Barack Obama being referred to as an Affirmative Action President.
  • Of course, everyone's favorite is "family values", which immediately invokes the feelings of warmth, security, honesty and support that a family brings. Even though the term really means a few vicious pet social issues - hatred of gays, being anti-abortion, and restricting roles for women. (See also "traditional values").
  • "Job creator" is yet another one, and it has begun to see common usage after the recent recession. It tells people that companies give them employment, often out of the goodness of their hearts. The term is often euphemistically used by Republican politicians in order to fight corporate taxation (mainly because outright praising corporations isn't good PR).
  • "Separatist" and "self-determination" evoke negative and positive responses respectively to an independence movement. One suggests "separation", which is linked with relationship difficulties in many people's minds; the other suggests responsibility and fairness. The Chinese government goes one further and uses the term "splittist" for Tibetan nationalists.
  • Insurgent, freedom fighter and terrorist can all be applied to the same group depending on the speaker's perspective.
  • "Indoctrination" or "brainwashing" in reference to perceived liberal bias in public education and higher education institutions. These words have been used by right wing groups like Eagle Forum, Campus Reform, David Horowitz Freedom Center, etc.
  • "Makers and takers": Coined by U.S. Representative and Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan during the 2012 election; "takers" describing people who "get more benefits from the federal government than they pay back in taxes."[1] In 2014, Ryan repudiated his choice of words while nonetheless standing by his overall message.[2] Conservatives have often described welfare recipients as thieves or such synonyms. For instance, conservative commentator Charles Sykes has written a book titled A Nation of Moochers: America's Addiction to Getting Something for Nothing. Also, common derogatory terms used to describe poor people, especially recent immigrants, include: parasite, leecher, invader, etc.
  • "Urban": Republicans have been really bad at attracting black Americans and speaking on race, so they now have the new strategy of referring to black voters as "urban" voters and then saying the same racist spiel. This gets to hilarious extremes where even Conan O'Brien called Paul Ryan out for being way too obvious about whom he was talking about. [3]
  • "Health freedom": In the anti-vaccine arguments, those against vaccines evoke freedom by the right to choose or at least not be forced by government to vaccinate their children due to (unfounded) fears of thiomersal, links to autism, and rare complications from vaccines.

[edit] Legislation

  • The "Estate Tax," which is only levied on very large bequests, was spun and renamed as the "Death Tax", because the listener would assume it was a tax on anyone who died (well, on their survivors), without realizing it only applies to a very small number of people.
  • The phrase "No Child Left Behind" emphasizes the innocence of children, and the feeling of isolation at being left behind, rather than the same program which could have been called "Helping students pass standardized tests succeed in school", the "charter school support act", or simply the "public education reduction act" - reflecting the main effect of the legislation, which is to penalize and ultimately close schools in poor districts owing to the infamous practice in the USA of financing schools via local property taxes.
  • The "Defense of Marriage Act" intentionally invokes the image that marriage is being attacked, rather than a more straightforward name like "The Marriage for Heterosexual Couples Only For Federal and Interstate Purposes[4] Act".
  • The "USA PATRIOT Act" is a (brutally forced) acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, but due to the title, it implies that those opposed to the Act are inherently unpatriotic.
    • The above case is so galling that President Bush of all people wrote in his memoir Decision Points that he regretted the act's name.

[edit] Neologism

Nobody is sure exactly what it is, but whatever it is, it sounds bad and needs to be banned.

  • "Partial-birth abortion" - politicians seem to know more about what this term means than the doctors that perform it.
  • "Assault weapon" - scary black guns, which may or may not be related to assault rifles.

[edit] Loaded questions

Loaded questions come in two forms:

  1. Trick questions force the respondent to either admit to an opinion or fact they do not share, or deny a factual premise. The most famous example of a trick question like this is: "When did you stop beating your wife?" In this form, an answer that does not directly refute the premise of the question (e.g. "I've never beaten my wife.") admits the truth in it, implicitly at least.[5] An example of forced opinion: "So, you are going to vote for that lazy Obama?" If one says yes, they admit to Obama being lazy, if they say no, they are lying about voting. Another option would be to reply in a way that implicitly rejects the loaded language by substituting more neutral language: "I am going to vote for Obama." An example of forced fact: "So you are one of those god-denying evolutionists?" The interrogee may think evolution is a fact, but also could be, say, a Christian.
  2. Leading questions supply the answer in the question, but the following examples all consist of a statement followed by a question, invoking arguments of association such as: "Smart people have been shown to like Obama. Do you like Obama?" "It's been proven that good and righteous Christians such as you like banana cream pie; do you like banana cream pie?" While these examples are obvious, if the topic is in an area one is unfamiliar with, and the "associations" use what appear to be expert opinions, one may well be moved to agree without even realizing what one has done. Amendment 2 in Colorado was a prime example of this.[6] Few people understood the language of the bill, including many people in the legal profession. Polls would say to people "Experts analyzing this bill agree that it protects workers like yourself from being the victim of special rights groups. Workers all over the state are saying they feel threatened by this move, since it means someone can be hired who isn't qualified simply due to these special rights. Knowing that, and understanding how hard it is today to find a job, are you with us in our support of Amendment 2?"

[edit] Snarl words

A snarl word is a derogatory label that can be attached to something, in order to dismiss its importance or worth, without guilt. When used as snarl words, these words are essentially meaningless; most of them can be used with meaning, but rarely are.

While not actually using the word, liberal comedian/pundit/U.S. Senator Al Franken went into great detail about the "Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy"'s use of snarl words and other forms of emotional appeal in his first political work, Rush Limbaugh Is A Big Fat Idiot, specifically referencing Newt Gingrich, Frank Luntz, and Lee Atwater's political activities and conservative pressure groups' reliance on such tactics to slam through the 1994 Contract With America program.

Words frequently perceived and/or used as snarl words include:

[edit] Glittering generalities

A glittering generality, sometimes called a "virtue word" or "purr word," is the opposite of a snarl word. It's a vague term meant to invoke warm fuzzy feelings as in some of the examples given above. (Who could be against the children?) Some common glittering generalities:

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. Has Ryan remained consistent in talking about what he calls society's "takers" and "makers?" Politifact: 2013.
  2. Paul Ryan Shuns Conservative Media's "Makers And Takers" Rhetoric, But His Policies Still Rely On Those Myths
  4. The act itself did not prohibit individual states from legalizing same-sex marriage, to be fair. That, and making recognition of same-sex marriage from other states optional.
  5. The correct answer is "mu", a Japanese word that more or less can be translated as "null", or in this case, "this question has no appropriate answer".
  6. In 1992, Colorado voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that prohibited anti-discrimination measures protecting LBGT people. Four years later, the US Supreme Court threw it out in Romer v. Evans.
  7. Famously deconstructed in this 1944 essay by George Orwell.
  8. Bob Unruh's Anti-Gay Agenda. Conwebwatch: 2014.

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