significance, sometimes called “the slanting of language,” is described with
examples and exercises.
I. Language can be analyzed into the two aspects of literal
meaning and emotional meaning.
- Emotive words are words that carry emotional overtones.
These words are said to have emotive
significance, emotive meaning or emotional impact.
The language is sometimes described as being loaded.
- Two different words or phrases can have literal
(or denotative) meanings which are similar, yet
differ significantly in their emotive significance. The
denotation of a word is its literal meaning; in philosophical
contexts, the denotation of a word or phrase is whatever is being
referred to by the use of that word or phrase.
- Often, we speak of "slanting" in terms of emotive
significance; i.e., a word or phrase can be positively
slanted, neutral, or negatively slanted.
- Emotively neutral language is preferable when
we are trying to get to the facts or follow an argument since our
emotions often cloud our reasoning. It is considered fair, accurate,
- When our purpose is to communicate clearly (i.e.,
the informative use of
language), then, if we wish to avoid being misunderstood,usually
language having the least emotive impact is the most useful.
- When resolving disputes or disagreements
between persons, it is usually best to try to reformulate the
disagreement in neutral language. In essence, as we will see later,
we are distinguishing between the belief (i.e., factual
reference) and the attitude (the “emotional” reference)
expressed by a given speaker or writer.
II. Examples of Emotive Significance or Slanting. Restate
each of following essentially emotively neutral descriptions by (1) a positively
slanted description and (2) by a negatively slanted description.
- We are often called upon to make use of slanted or
“loaded terms” for persuasion. In the service
industries, politics, and other cases involving special
pleading, putting your best foot forward often demands
accentuating the positive.
- Many significant issues stem from the distinction
between emotive and literal significance; some of these
are covered in the section on the varieties of agreements and
III. As an exercise in separating the two kinds of significance, the
following letter to "Dear Abby" will be translated from negatively
slanted language into positively slanted language. Note that the original
content of the letter is transformed from something which initially seems
to be informative to something predominately expressive. Try your own hand
at the translation, word or phrase by phrase. Suggestions for this
endeavor are given by clicking on the links below.
Introduction and Setting: A
neighbor's 9-year-old-grandson is spending most of the day at "NO OPEN HOUSE'S"
home. Mrs. NO OPEN HOUSE does not know what to do. A reader responds by the following
DEAR ABBY: In reference to NO OPEN HOUSE: Since the woman does not run a day-care center,
she is not responsible for
this little brat's welfare. And she doesn't have to be polite to him,either. Most likely this kid is pushed off on Grandpa because he's insufferable. And you feel sorry for him yet! The little monster should be made to stay
with his grandfather all day. Nothing unfortunate will happen to him except maybe he will
learn that life is not a
bowl of cherries. If this poor
woman lets him hang around her house all day, she might have to put him through college. If all
else fails, why don't you
take him Abby?