Loaded language (also known as loaded terms, emotive language, high-inference language and language-persuasive techniques) may be
Rhetoric () is the Art (skill), art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic – see Martianus Capella), is one of the Trivium, three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques writers or sp ...
used to influence an audience by using words and phrases with strong
A connotation is a commonly understood cultural
Culture () is an umbrella term which encompasses the social behavior and Norm (social), norms found in human Society, societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, Social norm, custom ...
, this type of language is called unclear, meaning vague, in order to
Social psychology defines a stereotype as a generalized belief about a particular category of people. It is an expectation that people might have about every person of a particular group. The type of expectation can vary; it can be, for exa ...
. Loaded words and phrases have significant emotional implications and involve strongly positive or negative reactions beyond their
Literal and figurative language is a distinction within some fields of language
A language is a structured system of communication
Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparen ...
Loaded terms, also called emotive or ethical words, were clearly described by
Charles Leslie Stevenson (June 27, 1908 – March 14, 1979) was an American analytic philosopher best known for his work in ethics
Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that "involves systematizing, defending, and recommending ...
. He noticed that there are words that do not merely describe a possible state of affairs. "
Terrorism, in its broadest sense, is the use of intentional violence to achieve political aims. The term is used in this regard primarily to refer to violence during peacetime
Peace is a concept of societal friendship and harmony in the ...
" is not used only to refer to a person who commits specific actions with a specific intent. Words such as "
Torture is the deliberate infliction of severe pain or suffering
Suffering, or pain in a broad sense, may be an experience of unpleasantness and aversion associated with the perception of harm or threat of harm in an individual. Suffering i ...
" or "
Freedom, generally, is having the ability to act or change without constraint. Something is "free" if it can change easily and is not constrained in its present state. In philosophy and religion, it is associated with having free will and bein ...
" 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 is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning. Informal logic seeks to characterize Validity (logic), valid arguments informally, for instance by listing varieties of fallacies. Formal logic represents statements and ar ...
Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic
Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning
Reason is the capacity of consciously making sense of things, applying logic
Logic (from Ancient Greek, Greek ...
. Authors R. Malcolm Murray
and Nebojša Kujundžić
''Prima facie'' (; ) is a Latin expression meaning ''at first sight'' or ''based on first impression''. The literal translation would be 'at first face' or 'at first appearance', from the feminine forms of ''primus'' ('first') and ''facies'' (' ...
'' 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 persuasive because they exploit the human weakness for acting immediately based upon an emotional response, ''without'' such further considered judgment. Due to such potential for emotional complication, it is generally advised 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".
A politician is a person active in party politics
A political party is an organization that coordinates candidate
A candidate, or nominee, is the prospective recipient of an award or honor, or a person seeking or being considered for some ...
s 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 "
Government spending or expenditure includes all government consumption, investment, and transfer payments. In national income accounting, the acquisition by governments of goods and services for current use, to directly satisfy the individual or ...
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''.
In the 1946 essay "
Politics and the English Language
"Politics and the English Language" (1946) is an essay by George Orwell that criticised the "ugly and inaccurate" written English of his time and examines the connection between political orthodoxies and the debasement of language.
The essay f ...
Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950) known by his pen name
A pen name, also called a ''nom de plume'' () or a literary double, is a pseudonym (or, in some cases, a variant form of a real name) adopted by an author and printed ...
discussed the use of loaded language in political discourse.
Propaganda techniques using words
Ethically disputed practices