What is Loaded Words?

It is possible to influence the outcome of a judgement by the deliberate use of prejudiced terms. When the words used are calculated to conjure up an attitude more favourable or more hostile than the unadorned facts would elicit, the fallacy used is that of loaded words.




(The two headlines tell us the same thing: that the leaders of Ger-many and France had seen the heads of their armed forces. In Ger-many these are ‘war lords’, but in France they are ‘defence chiefs’. The German leader is simply ‘Hitler’, without title, and he summons his men imperiously. Daladier, however, is a monsieur, and being a good democrat, ‘consults’.)

Near synonyms carry subtle nuances of meaning which can be used to influence attitudes to the statement which bears them. The fallacy derives from the fact that these attitudes are not part of the argument. They were conjured up illicitly to achieve more effect than could the argument alone. The extra nuances and the response to them are both strictly irrelevant to establishing the truth or falsehood of what is being said. Language abounds with ways of putting our own attitudes into a description in order to elicit a response from others. People may be forgetful or negligent; they may be steadfast or unyielding; they may be confident or arrogant. Many of these terms are subjective: they depend for their accuracy on the feelings of the observer and on how he or she interprets the situation. A fair argument requires a conscious effort to put forward the case in terms which are reasonably neutral.

Once again Britain has been found sucking up to dictatorships.

(Or maintaining friendly relations with strong governments. Note how ‘found’ implies that they were discovered in a guilty secret.)


The judge’s bench, as he directs the jury, is good territory for loaded words to roam on. English law, through a tiresome oversight, gives the jury the right to decide the verdict. Many a judge will help to fill this gap in legal procedure by choosing words to help the unfortunates in their deliberations.


Are we to believe the word of this snivelling, self-confessed pervert, or that of a man whose reputation is a byword for honour and integrity?

(If you had thought of doing so, this is a good point at which to change your mind.)


There is a series of verb conjugations which brings out the different loading a speaker will apply to words describing him, the person he speaks to, or an absent third party. Thus: ‘I am firm; you are stubborn; he is a pig-headed fool.’

Descriptions of contests can invite us to take sides by the choice of terms, rather than by the events they report.


Scotland stole a goal in the first half, but England’s efforts were rewarded in the second half when…

(Guess which side of the border the reporter comes from?)


What goes for the sports section applies even more to the leader page.


The public can distinguish Labour bribes from Tory pledges.

(They can certainly distinguish whose side the writer is on.)


Public affairs programmes on television are great fun for the connoisseur of loaded words. There is an unfortunate conflict of interests. They want to present material to make you share their prejudices; their authority requires at least some semblance of objectivity and balance. While blatant bias does occur, the satisfaction comes in spotting the loaded words at a slightly more insidious level. Which side has ‘terrorists’, for example, and which has ‘freedom-fighters?’ Which countries have a government and which a regime?

When you are in the situation of trying to persuade people, you will find loaded words most useful. Your verbal picture shows the bleak outlook of one alternative, and contrasts it with the rosy setting which results from the other. Your listeners need never know that you could have done it just as easily the other way round.


Would you rather believe the careful words of an internationally respected columnist, or the incoherent ramblings of a well-known hack?

Are you not moved by the just case which is even now being voiced by thousands of concerned demonstrators outside this very building?

I’m not going to be taken in by the bleatings of a mob.


When describing actions, remember to load your words in such a way that even to observers who know nothing of the facts, there will be an obvious distinction between your prudent investments and the reckless spending of others, between the modest perquisites to which you were entitled and the wholesale embezzlement in which they have engaged. Your dispassionate testimony should contrast well with their frenzied diatribe.