Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Using the Right Words

Words have power. We all know this but often we assume this refers to words when used as communication to transmit information when it’s actually the information that has power. Or maybe the words convey authority, that too means power.

That’s not the sort of word power I mean, it’s the power of the words themselves that is often important. Poets, songwriters, novelists and journalists use this word power all the time, but we rarely stop and think why it works, often we don’t even notice it at all. One reason for their power is because of the unconscious emotional association we make to different words.

As a simple example think about this sentence; “The bright red car accelerated quickly up the road”. Nothing special about that, it’s a simple description. We think of bright red as a nice attractive colour. There is nothing wrong with accelerating quickly and roads are designed to accelerate on when driving off. The sentence is emotional positive or neutral, maybe the family going off on holiday.

Change a few words. “The lurid red coupe accelerated fast up the carriageway”. Same event and the words mean the same but we get a totally different message. Now it’s a bad colour, the car is a fast one, the driver is violent, probably socially irresponsible, and carriageways are somehow faster than roads, the sentence now describes a bad situation.

The use of emotionally positive words in place of words with negative connotations is a staple method of the political correctness movement. “Intellectually challenged” is far more positive than “stupid” and the classic “Gay”, with connotations of carefree innocent enjoyment, was chosen to be the emotional opposite of “homosexual” which carries the stigma of political scandals and sordid toilet encounters of the 60s.

Such wordplay is far more subtle and more dangerous than ordinary spin. Spin simply exaggerates the good points and downplays the bad ones, at the extreme it is to lie by omission. It’s not hard to spot it. Choosing the right words to skew the emotive content however can be so subtle as to be almost subliminal.

The global warming movement have always been good at extreme spin. Their data lies by omission, their models lie by omission, and their power generation ideas are close to fantasy without any regard to the problems. Most of us have long realised it has to do with tax and control, the environment was simply a useful (probably manufactured) artificial problem. But in any case the whole global warming scenario had the great political disadvantage that it was all based around negative concepts, alarms and difficulties.

Recently the movement has moved beyond talking about AGW or climate change or even mentioning CO2 levels. The latest references leave all that behind and increasingly talk glibly of “carbon commitments” or “hitting our carbon targets”.  

This has the useful political effect of deflecting any criticism of the real environmental reality by removing the entire tax and control system and the practical problems beyond it. But more dangerously it uses an emotionally positive phrase to make it sound good. After all commitments are a good thing, targets are fun to hit. They have converted the language of the situation from a negative scenario into a positive aspiration making a celebratory event of their stupidity.

To get the truth we need to remember that the only reliable forms of energy we currently have for many purposes are carbon based. We also need to understand that “commitment” doesn’t mean agreement, it means “ration”. What they are talking about is our conforming to our energy ration.

That of course would be why they seem so lackadaisical about building new power stations and why they are trying to convince us that smart meters are for our benefit. We are heading for energy rationing, so don’t let phrases like “carbon commitment” fool you.

Reading any political commentary it is littered with emotive content. It’s quite interesting to try finding the emotional positives, words like simplicity, fairness, openness, accountability, democracy, safe, ones that nave nice cozy overtones then try substituting alternative words and phrases that mean the same but have negative connotations.


  1. And not to forget bthe move from 'global warming' and 'climate chaos' (woo, scary concepts) to 'sustainable development', which is as hard to disagree with (emotionally, that is) as motherhood and apple pie. It's clever, and it may still work.

    Good post.

  2. Quite Richard, must keep it positive and cuddly. Thanks.

  3. Slightly off-topic
    Why do we need a carbon target anyway? Isn't this just another tactic - assuming an unproven result/outcome useful to them and pushing that assumption through the MSM (esp BBC), so they can try to ignore scientific evidence?

    Back to the main thrust of your post
    Why not take your idea further the other way? What would official utterances look like when passed through a simple edit-filter, substituting, oh I dunno, maybe:
    'unproven panicky CAGW rubbish' for 'global warming'
    'hyperbolic CAGW' for 'climate change'
    'some expensive, vague but nice-sounding bollocks' for 'sustainable development'
    'excessive taxing and rationing of energy supplies' for 'carbon targets'

    We could build quite an amusing and accurate 'translation' service.
    (How long before Google spot the opportunity?)

    Then we could print out both documents, post them by snail-mail to ensure a reply from our MPs, and ask our MPs if they are really committed to these policies.

  4. I'm all in favour of 'Anti-spin' in such circumstances Anon.