Observations on Linguistic Connotations
Emotions play a very important role in arguments, not because they contribute to determining factual truth, but because they have tremendous influence over convincing power (and also because they can be used to bait your opponent into saying something they'll regret).
How to inflame
Something that in turn has tremendous infleunce over emotions is the *connotation* of the words we choose. Understanding these connotations can help us exploit them and avoid being affected by our adversaries exploiting them against us. Here are a few I want to shed light on.
- *No vs Nope.* No is a blunt disagreement, forceful but takes your opponent seriously. "Nope", on the other hand, is dismissive. Due to the humorous undertone, this overlaps with the inflammatory technique of laughing at your opponent. Saying nope instead of no is like saying "Lol, you think that?" which of course is far more insulting than "you're wrong". Of course, nope isn't always an inflammatory word; in contexts that aren't already confrontational this can be a wholesome way of joking.
- *Prefixing group labels with "the".* Saying "liberals want X" seems to ascribe something to liberalism itself rather than any particular liberal; since the universality is explicit, it doesn't feel as much like a personal criticism. But prefixing it with *the* masks the effect since in English we don't use 'the' for universals, and I think that's why this works: it's still talking about all liberals, but it *sounds* more specific and therefore more personally targeted.
Mass Effect makes heavy use of this one for its racist propaganda. Nothing would sound as universal and yet personally applicable if they said "Krogans started the war" instead of "The Krogans started the war".
Mass Effect review
- *Confident language: phrasing questions asking for explanation as commands or statements.* I had an argument on the Prismata subreddit where I said another poster was being "immature". His response was well-phrased: instead of "How is it immature to ...?", he said "Explain how it is immature to ..." Questions - at least of the sort that request explanation - seem to signal uncertainty, which I suspect is because they signal uncertainty outside of arguments. That puts you in a low status position. Commands are more forceful and express more confidence.
- **Phrasing statement-objections as rhetorical questions.** Imagine someone gives an argument based on a statistic, say the example I use in the linked article "70% of sexual harassers are male". The obvious response might be "Whoever decided who counts as a harassed in that study probably supported what you're using it to argue for, so they have an incentive to judge with bias." As logically sound as that rebuttal is, it's not very convincing, because it *sounds* like an assertion, which normally requires evidence. It invites responses like "But how do you *know* the person was biased? You can't just assume that!" and "Now you're just saying your opponents are liars! That's not how you convince people!"
Statistics - not the trump card you think
A better way of phrasing it is "But who decided who counts as a harasser in that study? How do we know the judgements are unbiased?" This phrasing shows better how the burden is on your opponent to defend their claim and is slightly less vulnerable to emotional responses like the above.
Also, questions asking for proof or for a simple answer are usually stronger than statements because a statement doesn't linguistically require a response. If a *question* goes unanswered, it's seen as a sign that the person it was posed to *couldn't* answer it, probably because they're in the wrong.
- **Sarcasm!** The more I pay attention to how arguments go and how different speech patterns seem to affect people's feelings, the more I appreciate just how powerful sarcasm is. The most charismatic people I've ever seen make heavy use of this. I think part of the reason humor is so powerful is because it makes people (not just the audience, but also you and possibly even your opponent) *enjoy* hearing your rebuttals, which of course creates a strong bias for them to side with you.
- Several pairs of words that mean more or less exactly the same thing, but have wildly different ideographic polarities:
* revenge | retaliation | retribution, justice
* obsessed | dedicated, devout
* unsolicited | surprise
* negativity | criticism
* arrogant | proud
* stubborn, obstinate, bent | determined, confident, resolute
* forced, nonconsensual | compulsory, mandatory
* complicated | intricate
* kill | execute
* kidnap | arrest
* slavery | draft, conscription (this one isn't an exact equivalency, but the latter two are far too nice-sounding for being a strict subset of slavery)
* theft (or come on, at least "property seizure") | eminent domain, civil forfeiture, taxation
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