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Loaded Words

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Loaded words or loaded language describes the misleading use of emotionally loaded language in order to win an argument.

Besides a word's definition, most words have a connotation that implies that its subject is either good or bad. For example, both the words "cabin" and "shack" mean basically the same thing, but one word has a positive connotation and the other has a negative connotation. Using a loaded term by itself isn't fallacious, but using loaded terms as a basis for an argument is. Using a loaded term to imply that the subject in question is bad when the point of your argument is that it's bad is just another form of Begging the Question.


Compare You Keep Using That Word.


  • In Methuselah's Children by Robert A. Heinlein, there is an anti-Howard Family groundswell (being abetted by the government), stemming from the mistaken belief that the Families have some secret longevity treatment. The government has laws in place regarding what can be said about anyone, including lists of "hot" words — those that carry emotional loads — and any article written for publication is measured against this list. If it scores above a certain threshold it's deemed incitement, inflammatory speech, or hate speech, and cannot be published. The groups that are pushing to have the Family members imprisoned until they reveal their "secret" are very, very careful to not let any individual article cross the threshold, and the government chooses not to act on the fact that there are so many articles of this type being written that even if none of them is sufficient alone, when taken in aggregate, they're overwhelming.
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  • In The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape mentions that Hell has been working to invoke this trope on society as a whole, by discouraging neutral words in favour of words with connotations that advance Hell's goals.
    "Once [people] knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective ‘unchanged’ we have substituted the emotional adjective ‘stagnant’. We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain—not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is."
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Cassie Arnold regularly chooses loaded words when asking about White Magician's victims during her confused bystander interviews in order to lead those she's interviewing to say things that support her agenda driven narrative, mostly by getting them to confirm that the victims were villains.
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  • The Winter War: A subtle yet eerily pervasive version. The narration always calls Russian soldiers "men", and Finnish soldiers are always "boys". This is the author's way of ensuring that the reader roots for the right side.


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