Abstract: Emotive significance,
sometimes called “the slanting of language,” is
described with examples and exercises.
- 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.
- Literal significance: 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.
- Examples of Emotive Significance or Slanting.
Restate each of following essentially emotively neutral descriptions
(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
- 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 into something
Try your own hand at the translation, word or phrase by phrase.
Suggestions for this endeavor are given by clicking on the links
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