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.
"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.
"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.
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!
"Happy Birthday, Reginald."
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.
"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."
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.
"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.
"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?
"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."
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."
"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.
"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.
Reasonable people can have serious and legitimate differences of opinion about what, exactly, their government should and should not be responsible for. I've got a pretty firm opinion of how large governments should be myself (massive, like planet-crushingly massive), but I acknowledge that intelligent people may feel otherwise. And that's fine and that's fair and if it wasn't for the fact that we all use the most twisted language possible to describe this issue, we'd almost certainly get along and not want to kill each other.
"STOP WORDING DIFFERENTLY THAN ME."
For example, if you don't have a problem with government spending, you'd be more likely to use terms like "investment" or "public services" to describe it. But if you wish governments were smaller, you'd use terms like "spending" or "huge fucking boondoggle, I mean, can you even believe?" The same thing occurs in a variety of other places. "Revenue" vs "tax dollars." "Public servants" vs "bureaucrats." There essentially aren't any neutral words left to describe these issues anymore; regardless of what word you use, you'll be coloring the argument in one direction or the other and angering or turning off anyone who disagrees with you.
"How dare this child imply that the notion of spending money on roads has merit? Lazy, entitled millennials."
When discussing tax breaks or other policies that benefit business owners (or the wealthy), it doesn't take long for someone to call this group of people "job creators." The reasoning is straightforward and not completely illogical. If business owners have more money, they'll be able to invest more in their businesses. Growing businesses need more workers, and that need means more jobs. If that sounds simple, it is. If that sounds childishly simple, it's that too. If it sounds too childishly simple of an argument to prop up billions of dollars of tax breaks, well that's just one of those things about this age that we're going to have to live with.
"Oh selfie. What have the elderly done to us this time?"
What's wrong with that reasoning? Well, let's start with the motivation. Business owners don't invest money in their businesses for fun. They're doing it to make more money. If a business can make more money by making more jobs, it will definitely do that. Hooray! The system works! But if it can make more money by firing a bunch of people it will do that too. Boooooooo system. And if it can make more money by sending jobs to Asia to be done by low-paid workers toiling in inhumane environments, it will do that most of all.
To be fair, there are plenty of examples of loaded language on the flipside of this equation. "Greedy owners," or "obscene profits," or "exploited workers," are all phrases that make pretty harsh judgment calls about something which may or may not be true. And there are circumstances when public policy that supports businesses (or even the wealthy) is justifiable. But let's just can it on the "job creators" thing. The wealthy were only doing that accidentally.
Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and your best eco-friend. Join him on Facebook or Twitter or don't, depending on how you feel about that.