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Loaded language

From Academic Kids

A language construct, such as a word or a question, is said to be loaded if it carries meaning or implications beyond its strict definition (its denotation).

Loaded words are words or phrases which have strong emotional overtones or connotations and which evoke strongly positive (or negative) reactions far beyond the specific meaning of the word which is listed in the dictionary.

Use of the phrase "loaded language" to describe the writing or speech of another implies an accusation of demagoguery or of pandering to the audience.

Some loaded language is used in ways that are deliberately ambiguous or even contradictory. Loaded language as an umbrella term is sometimes used to describe spin, euphemisms and doublespeak.

Examples of loaded words include:

  • Democracy which used to have strong negative connotations (it was used as the word demagoguery is used today) and now has strong positive connotations throughout the western world. Many now consider anything "democratic" to be automatically "good" and anyone accused of being "anti-democratic" as automatically "bad".
  • Discrimination which means "to sort between," but which has now become so associated with prejudice and bias based on race, sex, sexuality, class, age, etc. that the word's original sense has become almost unusable.
  • Non-sexist language, because it implies that failing to use "non-sexist language" is sexist.
  • Both of the terms pro-life and pro-choice, because each implies that the other is anti- something, specifically that pro-life is anti-choice and that pro-choice is anti-life.
  • Pro-Choice proponents accuse Pro-Lifers of using loaded language in their choice of the term partial birth abortion to describe the medical procedure intact dilation and extraction, since there is no live birth in the partial birth abortion procedure.
  • Free will which in philosophy is often used to mean the opposite of determinism, but which instead suggests freedom from external coercion.
  • Propaganda, which literally refers to a specific type of message presentation aimed at serving an agenda, but which carries strong negative connotations of being deceptive.
  • Clitoridectomy is a form of female circumcision and a form of female genital mutilation. However, female genital mutilation is a term used primarily by persons who do not approve of genital modification and mutilation of minors.
  • A concentration camp is a term that literally just refers to a camp in which many people are "concentrated" in one area. There is nothing inherently evil about the term, but it is now seen as synonymous with the death camps of Nazi Germany.
  • Terrorism, which carries a strong negative connotation throughout much of the world although there is widespread debate on what exactly constitutes terrorism.

These terms seem to arise most often in politics where they serve the purpose of propaganda.

Questions, on the other hand, do not need to contain any "loaded words" to be considered loaded questions. They are usually said to be loaded if they make a presupposition. For example, the question "Do you still cheat on your taxes?" makes the presupposition that the subject of the question at one time did cheat on his/her taxes. Common examples of loaded questions arise in interviews where the interviewer wishes to make a biased statement while keeping a guise of unbiased journalism.

Avoiding loaded language where possible is essential for keeping a neutral point of view.

See also:

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