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.

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"

Mass Effect makes heavy use of this one for its racist propaganda. When they say, "the Krogans started the war", you get the feeling that "the Krogans" is a unified entity responsible for this as a whole. If they just said "Krogans started the war", it would sound like they're talking about a subset of them, not a whole species.

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.

Prismata review

Phrasing statement-objections as rhetorical questions

Imagine someone gives an argument based on a statistic, say an example I've previously used to illustrate problems with statistics, "70% of sexual harassers are male". The obvious response might be "Whoever decided who counts as a harasser in that study was likely biased, since that's something open to interpretation." 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?" and "Now you're just saying your opponents are liars!"

Imagine if the response was "But who decided who counts as a harasser in that study? How do we know their idea of harassment is the same as mine or yours?" This doesn't activate the impulses to challenge like a statement does; it shifts the attention onto your opponent, expecting an answer.

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.


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 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.

Synonyms: choose your bias

Several pairs of words that mean more or less exactly the same thing, but have wildly different ideographic polarities:


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