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5 Seemingly Innocent Phrases That Start Instant Flame Wars

You know what synonyms are, I'm sure: different words that describe the same thing. Except, no, they're not at all, idiot. Although they might refer to the same physical object, most synonyms will carry wildly different connotations that dramatically change the meaning of the word. "Poop" and "excrement" refer to the same physical thing, but they have far different connotations, one of them a silly-sounding word meant for using around children, the other a far more clinical choice, like something a doctor might use.

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"I see. And when was the last time you did drop a deuce?"

Understanding all the connotations a word has and picking the one that best suits your purposes is one of the most critical skills you can have when writing or public speaking. Politicians and pundits are masters of this, regularly using language that, although literally accurate, is so laden with other connotations that their pants might as well be on fire.

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"Freedom America Patriot Honor Constant Drone Attacks For The Children."

They're not alone, though, and advertisers and lawyers also do more or less the same thing. And although Cracked's policy is, as always, to encourage hatred of politicians, lawyers, and admen, and to demand that our readers throw flaming deuces at them on sight, that doesn't stop us from studying their techniques. Here, then, are five examples of the most loaded language currently in use today, so that you might better protect yourself from their sorcery.

#5. Family Values

Taken without any context whatsoever, "family values" sounds fantastic. I've got two or three families scattered across the country, and I want only the best for them. Things like tire swings and little red wagons and kiddie pools and summer nights of dad getting drunk in all of those? Those family values are great!

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"Happy Birthday, Reginald."
"It's George."
"George."

But, of course, we do have context, and by now we all know that "family values" has almost nothing to do with families at all, and instead is sort of a code word to describe the way various evangelical Christian groups perceive we should handle social issues. In our awful real world, "family values" can mean being against gay marriage, or sex education, or drinking in little red wagons. And if you are against those things, well, OK (you crazy kooks), but don't go around calling this stance "family values." That implies that only one type of family exists and that any family that, say, wants their gay kids to be happy, isn't worth considering.

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"It's a ... mesh shirt and Kylie Minogue CD?"
"I just want you to know I love and support you no matter who you are, Reginald."
"It's George."
"George."

#4. Eco

Ads are full of loaded terms. We understand that "new" things are better, and "value" things are cheap and low quality, and that things with "realistic cheese flavoring" are the best.

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"And this oven has no trans fats."
"Is it high-def?"
"It is high-def, yes."

But the loaded term (prefix, really) I'll specifically draw your attention to is "eco." When you see a product with the word "eco" in its name, you know that that means the product is environmentally friendly. Its renewable, something, sustainable, something, tested only on ugly animals, whatever. You know. Environmentally friendly. Whether the product actually is environmentally friendly doesn't really matter; so long as it has "eco" in its name, you'll think it is. This is part of a broader trend called "greenwashing," and it's effective basically because you like thinking you're saving the environment, even if you don't really know how the environment works.

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"SAVE THE WHALES. SAVE THE WHALES. SAVE THE WHALES."

Interestingly, this term is also at least somewhat loaded in the opposite direction. There's some evidence that environmentally friendly labels are a turn-off to some customers due to the perception that environmentally friendly products are either less effective or reflect different political beliefs than the purchaser has. Who said marketing was easy?

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"Is there any way we can make our product incredibly toxic but also ineffective?"
"You mean the opposite, right?"
"I ... uh ... no, I don't think so."

#3. Victim

The word "victim" has become increasingly banned or restricted from being used in courtrooms. Which sounds kind of insane, the kind of thing that fuels both lawyer jokes and massive public mistrust of the judicial system. But when you think about it, you can kind of see the point; calling someone a victim before the trial has determined whether a crime has happened is obviously premature, and it could coax jurors into thinking the crime has happened before that's been proved. Increasingly, lawyers and witnesses are being asked to replace the word "victim" with "complainant."

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"May I remind the witness to please refer to it not as a stab wound but as an owwie of disputed provenance."

Somewhat less understandably, the same thinking has been used to ban words like "rape" and "sexual assault" from courtrooms. Again, the reasoning is that those words imply a crime has happened, although the fact that alternative words which are still allowed, like "sex" and "intercourse," strongly imply that a crime didn't happen and could bias the jury in the exact other direction. That didn't apparently occur to this judge, because haha that'd make sense.

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"May I remind the witness to please not sarcastically suggest that everything this court does make sense."

In short, this is basically one of those things that defense lawyers do that, in theory, is super important to the law (vigorously defending the accused) but, in reality, feels rather a lot more like they're dumping a big bucket of grease on a slip-and-slide that leads through a portal to hell.

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Chris Bucholz

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