Language Use & Misuse

Slanting: Selective Reporting the Facts

1. Indonesia's Mochtar Lubis hit the nail right on the head concerning the so-called free and balanced flow of information. The Third World attempt at news management represents little more than a self-serving exercise in journalism designed for the self-perpetuation of some authoritarian regime. National development is not supposed to be a juggernaut demanding the sacrifice of freedom of speech and justice. What developing countries cannot afford is not the luxury of a critical press, but the white elephant of an inept or corrupt government.

Slanting: Distorting the Facts

1. Weasel Words: "New and Improved"; "Helps"; "Fight"; "Virtually"; "Acts Fast"; "Like"; "Up To xxx% Off"

2. What do these advertise for? What do these slogans actually mean?

"Tastes Great. Less Filling."
"For virtually spotless dishes nothing beats Cascade."
"Little. Yellow. Different. Better."
"Advanced medicine for pain."
"The liquid strong enough to be called Drano."
"It's not a capsule. It's better."
"Fast, effective relief for winter colds."

Slanting: Words with Agendas, Propaganda

Deliberate spreading and distorting of information intended to help or harm a cause.

1. Sexual Orientation/Sexual Preference: "Orientation" implies that something is natural, while "preference" implies it's a choice.

2. G. W. Bush & other Republicans regularly refer to the opposition as "The Democrat Party", rather than "The Democratic Party". This communicates that they matter so little that it isn't even important enough to get their name right. Democrats (and bloggers) have countered with names for the Republican Party, ranging from "The Republic Party", to "Republican-Americans" (designed to annoy Republicans, as it turns what some would see as "true" Americans into just another ethnic or lifestyle group within a world of identity politics, like "African-Americans"); "Repugs" (short for repugnant), and others.

3. Pro-life; Pro-choice: Everyone wants to be "pro", right?

4. Global Warming/Climate Change: The first is what scientists usually use, while the second is what politicians sometimes use when they don't want to admit that anything bad is happening.

5. Estate Tax/Death Tax: The first suggests that only people with estates (i.e., large fortunes) will be taxed, while the second suggests that everyone who dies will be taxes. Again, terms with political weight.

Loaded Terms

Labelling something in a way that is either debatable or false, and using the label as support for some conclusion. Usually generates emotional reactions.



2. a. Only a racist would disagree with my position.

b. If you don't agree with what the president is doing, you must be anti-American.

3. The church is led by old-fashioned and ill-informed old men who wouldn't have a hope of understanding the oppression of women. People who don't understand a problem are not the proper ones to educate others about that problem. The church should play some role in educating people about social problems. Therefore, women within the church should take the lead in educating others about women's oppression.

4. Well, I see one of your esteemed columnists has added her name to the list of bleeding hearts concerning capital punishment.
Ms. Precop, and her band of pseudo-intellectuals, and politicians in general take the attitude that the public is, at best, near imbecile, and must therefore be led around by the nose mentally all their lives.
Let's put an end to all this rhetoric once and for all, place the subject on the ballot for a public referendum, and let the do-gooders busy themselves sending CARE packages to Millhaven.



Words or phrases with limited or regional use. Often based on stereotypes or meant to generate an emotional reaction.


Opposite of loaded language, in that terms are less emotional than appropriate, rather than more.


1. The comedian George Carlin notes that, in the wake of the first world war, traumatized veterans were said to be suffering from "shell shock." The short, vivid phrase conveys the horrors of battle -- one can practically hear the shells exploding overhead. After the second world war, people began to use the term "combat fatigue" to characterize the same condition. The phrase is a bit more pleasant, but it still acknowledges combat as the source of discomfort.. In the wake of the Vietnam War, people referred to "post-traumatic stress disorder": a phrase that is completely disconnected from the reality of war altogether.

2. What are euphemisms for bodily functions and the places they occur? Swear words your grandmother might use? Euphemisms for body parts? Euphemisms for death? Masturbation (one website lists 1700 of them)? Sex?

3. Management/Business Euphemisms: Down-sizing, Right-sizing, re-engineering, re-tooling

4. Nuclear doublespeak


5. Euphemisms for war?



A term is vague when we can't determine the exact meaning or extent of use.

1. No further conditional commitments will be issued except pursuant to firm reservations of contract authority issued to developers on or before the close of business last Friday, until further notice from the Secretary. No further fund reservations will be made except in accordance with instructions to follow from the Secretary. Firm commitments may be issued pursuant to outstanding conditional commitments and conditional commitments issued pursuant to reservations of contract authority made before close of business Friday...



A term or phrase is ambiguous when there is more than one possible meaning, and we cannot decide which is meant. The reader needs to determine whether there is a real dispute or a verbal dispute, that is, whether the dispute is over a difference of ideas, or over a different understanding of terms.

  1. Equivocation (semantic ambiguity): Using different meanings of a word.

  2. Amphiboly (syntactic ambiguity): Ambiguity based on grammatical structure.

  3. Accent: claims can have different meanings depending on what receives the emphasis in the expression of the claim.

1. [Dan Quayle's wife about husband's intellectual prowess] He tries to read Plato's Republic every year.



4. All cats are animals. My cat is a healthy cat. Therefore, my cat is a healthy animal.

5. All cats are animals. My cat is a large cat. Therefore, my cat is a large animal.

6. As the very etymology of the word "pornographic" tells us, pornography is concern with the flesh; it is enough to read (if you can bring yourself to read) the description of sexual activities in such works as the novels of Jacqueline Susann and Henry Miller, to realize that these works can only be called pornographic, if the word is used strictly. Recent investigations have shown us more about pornography and have given a better and fuller understanding of what it really means. A pornographic novel by definition is one that tends to deprave or corrupt the reader through its explicit and overt descriptions of sexual activity. Note those weighty words "deprave" and "corrupt"! It is evident that we must hake every effort to keep the admittedly depraving and corrupting works of Susann and Miller out of the hands of the public.



9. If Croesus went to war with Cyrus, a great kingdom would be destroyed.