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watch what we say

06/03/2013


watch what we say - the damaging power of negative language

we need to watch what we say and how we say it - pejorative language can negatively influence situations - repeatedly used this can damage our appeal to others and our personal power


some definitions ...

belittle - dismiss as unimportant
critical - expressing adverse comments
degrade - treat with disrespect
deride - express contempt for
derogatory - showing a critical attitude
denigrate - criticize unfairly
deprecate - express disapproval of
dismiss - treat as unworthy of serious consideration
disparage - regard as being of little worth
pejorative - expressing contempt
vilify - speak about in an abusively disparaging manner

whilst these words are not all true synonyms, it's telling how many similar words we have for pejorative - in much the same way perhaps as Inuit people are said to have many words to describe snow - suggesting perhaps that put-downs are common in the English language and/or western culture 


bias and distortion
the language we use can distort the world around us to make it seem more acceptable to our viewpoint

a tablet computer, for example, might be seen as 'modern miracle' by those that welcome the technology but a 'newfangled contraption' to those that don't - this bias and distortion is often pejorative and negative 


prejudice
prejudice is perhaps the most commonly understood form of pejorative speech - our maturing culture has taught us, over generations of unfair treatment, to be respectful to our fellow humans - it is no longer acceptable to display prejudice over race, culture, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation    

it is sad, but not rare to hear phrases like 'blonde bimbo' or 'woman driver' - to give but two examples in the area of gender alone      

 


damning
with our language we can damn with faint praise - eg "that was quite good", often stressing 'quite' to make ourselves seem superior and we can put others down with statements like: "that's nonsense" or "that's ridiculous" - but we risk offending others and alienating ourselves

this particular topic is dealt with in more detail in my essay: Criticism & Confidence 


minimising and maximising

minimising and maximising are well-used techniques in sales and marketing to make things seem less or more than they really are - an example of minimising might be an insurance policy costing £36:00 per annum, promoted as 'less than 10p per day'

we subconsciously use the same techniques in our everyday speech to play down our misdemeanours - eg "I just made the slightest little remark" - and to play up offences by others - eg "their response was way over the top" - in an attempt to dilute our own mistakes and make the other party seem unreasonable


projection
this is a more complex but very common phenomenon where we project qualities,  normally faults, onto others because we don't feel comfortable interacting with them

after a late night, we might think of the bedside clock as 'that cruel alarm' - in doing so we are projecting cruelty onto the clock - but the clock can't be cruel, it just tells the time 

in a similar way, we sometimes inappropriately project arrogance onto those more confident than ourselves, we can project snobbery onto those with more wealth or a better education than ourselves and we might project nerdiness onto those more technical than ourselves - to give but three examples 

there will of course be times when people genuinely behave arrogantly, snobbishly or nerdily - we just need to make sure we are not projecting faults that others don't deserve to placate our own discomfort

 

Dan Evans

 


conclusion
we need to be careful about using pejorative language - it can cause offence and it will make us appear negative and critical, which are not endearing traits - this can damage our credibility and personal power



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