They say that people judge us by the words we use. It is equally true that we show our own judgments by the words we choose. Words can carry more baggage than the United Airlines carousel at O’Hare.
I am constantly amazed at how supposedly impartial reporters manage to get their personal biases across, oh so subtly, with their choice of words.
As these examples from http://thesaurus.com show, words that are technically synonymous can have different meanings, loaded with praise or criticism. (Synonyms are shown in bold italics.)
– Criticism: This rather negative term might be replaced with the observation of a neutral bystander, the more admiring appreciation, or a stern judgment rendered by a magistrate in robes and wig.
– Thrifty: With its brother, prudent, this is a desirable trait. How different from the mean-spirited, Silas Marner connotations of penny-pinching or close-fisted.
– Wealthy: Something most of us would like to be, it goes along with the reassuring comfortable and admiring independent. To the envious this is having it made, but made of money and rolling in it might be said with a slight sneer.
– Chubby: A somewhat tolerant view of adipose, this is midway between the complimentary zaftig and disapproving tubby or fatty.
– Investment: This term, much in the political news lately, implies a prudent expenditure with an expectation of return almost reaching the level of a loan. Others might classify money spent as a plain old expense. Speculation is more risky and vested interests are self-serving.
– Funny: Those of us toiling in the humor vineyards love this adjective, along with its clever cousin, witty. We might occasionally go for out-of-control hysterical, but rarely want to wear the foolish tag of silly.
– Rant: This implies a lack of logic and/or self-control. An advocate might stump or declaim, which is a more reasonable enthusiasm. It takes an elder statesman to orate.
– Lady: A woman who exudes propriety. She runs the gamut from a queen on her throne, to a doll – a plaything. Some might call her a bitch. You know what that connotes.
Having a large vocabulary means we can express our thoughts precisely. We have to be careful, though, because our choices often say as much about us as they do about the topic. To the attentive listener, the subtle nuances of word choices speak volumes.