Richard F. Taflinger, PhD

Chapter Seven:

The Power of Words

At the end of World War II the Allies Powers sent a message to the Japanese demanding surrender. The Japanese responded with the word mokusatsu, which translates as either "to ignore" or "to withhold comment". The Japanese meant that they wished to withhold comment, to discuss and then decide. The Allies translated mokusatsu as the Japanese deciding to ignore the demand for surrender. The Allies therefore ended the war by dropping the bomb and transforming the world we live in forever.

The effect that words can have is incredible: to inform, persuade, hurt or ease pain, end war or start one, kill thousands or even millions of people. They can get your point across, or destroy any hope of your ideas ever being understood.

When using words, one of the major considerations must be how to achieve the most impact upon your audience. If the words chosen do not have an effect then there really isn't much point in saying or writing them. How then does one get the most impact from one's words?

First, let us examine the ways in which words can have an impact. Each word has two definitions, the denotative and the connotative. The denotative meaning is basically the dictionary meaning, the one that almost anyone can understand who speaks or desires to speak the language.

For example, take the word "chair". It has a denotative meaning: a piece of furniture designed for one person to sit upon. Anybody can point at such a piece of furniture and the audience will respond with "chair" (or whatever word means "a piece of furniture designed for one person to sit upon" in their language). It is this denotative meaning students learn in foreign language classes so they will know the word "chaise" means "chair" in French.

However, of greater importance is the connotative definition, the definition each individual conjures up in response to hearing or reading the word. That definition can be denotative in effect, but strictly individual. For example, someone hearing the word chair will rarely think "a piece of furniture designed for one person to sit upon." Instead they will imagine what they consider a chair. It could be a desk chair, a Queen Anne wing chair, a dining room chair, or whatever image appears before the mind's eye representing to that person a "chair". This is not a specific image common to all, but a general concept dependent on the individual. This is why people use modifiers like adjectives and adverbs: they narrow the general concept to one specific to the speaker's intent. Thus, when the speaker has an image of a wing chair, he or she adds the modifier "wing". This prevents the audience conjuring up a desk chair.

Thus, the connotative definition of a word can be denotative in effect. However, of far more importance is that the connotative meaning of a word can have a strong emotional content. In other words, the audience can respond emotionally rather than intellectually to hearing or reading a word.

For example, let us take the word "snake". The denotative definition, a cold-blooded, legless reptile, has little emotional content. The connotative definition, however, can have a strong impact, depending on the individual's perception of a snake. It could be a cool, dry, pest eliminator, or a cold, slimy, yucky monster. Another example is "spider". As you, dear reader, read this word, what was your response? Did you think "an eight-legged arachnid"? Or did you have another, emotional response, perhaps "a silent pest-killer" or "a creepy, crawly, hairy beastie, yuck, keep-it-away-from-me, kill it"? Whichever response you had, it is your individual connotation, your emotional response to the word.

Why is this difference between the denotative and connotative definitions of words of such importance? It is because the greatest impact of words comes from using the connotative meanings to affect the audience's emotional response. One reason for this is that you cannot argue away emotions because they do not respond to logic. Thus, if you can make your audience agree with your point of view on an emotional level, your opponent's logical arguments won't sway them about why they shouldn't feel that way.

An example that just about everybody can relate to: you're inlove; he-she-it is the most wonderful, perfect person in the world, flawless, faultless ("love is blind" is not only a cliche, it is a truism). Then he-she-it dumps you; tears, wailing, depression, etc., ensues. Your friends gather around and tell you that he-she-it is a jerk, a poltroon, not worth the tears, that he-she-it does not deserve the trauma through which you are putting yourself. You nod, agree, then you burst into tears anew, exclaiming "but I can't help it, this is how I feel." All the logical arguments in the world about why you shouldn't feel bad about being dumped have no effect on your emotions. That's how you feel.

That you cannot argue away emotions is only one of the reasons that connotations have impact. Another is that abstract words are almost entirely defined by their connotations. Abstract words such as truth, beauty, and justice mean what the individual feels they mean. There is no referent he can point to as a concrete example. Thus, abstractions affect most people emotionally. If, therefore, you can make a discussion of abstractions emotional by personalizing or anthropomorphizing them, they can have a greater impact. Moliere used this idea in his play TARTUFFE. He personalized religious hypocrisy, the cloaking of vice in a mantle of virtue, in the character of Tartuffe, a quite unpleasant person. Thus, if you don't like Tartuffe, an attitude difficult to avoid, you won't like what he stands for.


Recall the discussion of programming in Chapter 2. Much of people's programming is done in words, and those words lead to people's behavior.

Words can obviously make people react or behave in certain ways. The problem is: which words?

Obviously, some words have built-in reactions: mother, patriotism, truth, God, Allah, vomit, dentist. Whether someone is for or against any of the concepts represented by those words, nonetheless there is an emotional reaction.

However, most words do not, in and of themselves create reactions. Nevertheless, when put in combination with other words, phrases can have strong effects. For example, I once had a student who wrote an informative paper on the medical techniques used for abortions. She didn't want to express a point of view about abortion, simply discuss medical techniques. However, she used the words, "Another method used to kill the baby is . . .." [my italics] Notice the emotional impact of that phrase. Using "terminate the fetus" has far less emotional impact than "kill the baby."

By choosing words according to their denotative or conotative meanings, you can increase or decrease their impact on your audience.


An effective use of words that is nonetheless rather unethical is using logical fallacies. These fallacies are misleading and are not sound reasoning, based as they are on word choice and syntax rather than evidence. They sound like evidence, but are really lacking evidence. They are quite popular in advertising and demagoguery.

Begging the Question

Begging the question is making a statement that includes a premise that has not been proven, basically saying that something is simply because it is. For example, the statement "Henry Miller's filthy books should be banned" is beggingthe question, in that it contains the unproven premise that the books are filthy. "Why are so many mothers of cavity prone children switching to Aim [toothpaste]?" is also begging the question. It contains the unproven premise that mothers of cavity-prone children are doing anything at all, much less switching to Aim. It looks like evidence that Aim is better for cavity-prone children, when it fact it provides no evidence whatsoever.

Weasel Words

Weasel words are those words that are tossed into a sentence that change the actual meaning of the sentence while leaving an impression that is different. For example, the sentence "Our canned corn is as good as fresh cooked corn." The impression given is that the canned corn is as good (whatever that means) as fresh corn on the cob. However, the weasel word is "cooked". Thus the sentence actually says that the canned corn is as good as corn that has been cooked; of course, now you need to cook it again to serve it. Note the sentence does not say that the canned corn is as good as fresh corn; it's as good as fresh cooked corn.

Another example: "Our dog food contains as much meat protein as 10 pounds of sirloin steak." The sentence gives the impression that the dog food contains sirloin steak. In fact it contains the equivalent of 10 pounds of steak in the form of meat protein. This protein can be anything that is made of meat: lips, cheeks, snouts, entrails, etc. It is doubtful that the dog food actually contains 10 pounds of steak. If it did, the sentence would read, "Our dog food contains 10 pounds of sirloin steak."

An interesting example of weasel words is the phrase, "Three out of four doctors recommend the major ingredient in [the product of your choice]." Note that the major ingredient is not specifically stated. For many analgesic products, the major ingredient is aspirin. Saying that outright might leave the audience wondering why they should buy that product rather than just buying aspirin, and thus would defeat the purpose of the sentence. (Of course, using the same reasoning as the above, the sentence could be "Three out of four doctors recommend the major ingredient in poisoned orange juice." Since the major ingredient in poisoned orange juice is orange juice, the statement is true, and we can ignore the small percentage of strychnine mixed in.)

A favorite weasel word is one of the shortest: if. "If the whole wide world can enjoy [whatever the product is], then so can you" says absolutely nothing about the product, or even if anyone at all enjoys the product. It simply says "if". Nonetheless, that weaseling out of actually having to prove a contention is a major way of seeming to prove a contention.

Black/White Fallacy

The black/white, or either/or fallacy is making a statement that provides insufficient options to your argument. "Love it or leave it" was a big slogan of the 1960s, and it sounds logical. Nevertheless, it provides no other possible options, such as "Love it, or don't love it, stay or not, you don't have to agree with me if you don't want to."

The reason this fallacy is often called the black/white fallacy is that it denies any shades of grey on an issue or idea. Using it gives the impression that everything can be seen in terms of yes or no, true or false, on or off, with no maybes or both true and false depending on circumstances allowed. This fallacy is particularly popular and effective in jingoism, where slogans replace thinking: "Love it or leave it", "If you're not for me, you're against me", "My country, right or wrong". Note that all of the above actually have other options, but the statements do not allow for them.

Complex Question

A complex question is one that appears to be asking for a yes or no answer, but is in reality two yes-or-no questions that are usually contradictory. A well-known example is, "Are you still beating your wife?" It seems to be asking for a yes or no answer, but no matter how it's answered, it condemns the respondent. Answer yes, and he's still beating his wife; say no, and he used to. Another example is, "Are you still cheating on your income tax?" Again, no matter how you answer, you can't win.

Dangling Comparative

A dangling comparative is a statement which seems to be comparing one thing to another, but in actuality never actually states what the thing being compared is being compared to. What generally happens is that the comparison is left up to the audience to complete. For example, "Our tires stop 25% faster." Note that the statement never says what the tires stop faster than. The audience would naturally expect it to be other tires, and would mentally finish the statement, "Our tires stop 25% faster than other tires." However, that is not what was said. The comparison is left open, and could be other tires (in which case, it would be stronger to actually say so), but it probably isn't other tires. It could just as easily be doughnuts.

"Our toothpaste tastes better." Better than what, day-old bacon fat, fertilizer, kerosene? The comparison is never finished except in the minds of the audience.

"There is nothing just like [whatever]." This is undoubtedly true. However, what is being compared? It could be simply the name of the product. Thus if the sentence is, "There is nothing just like Ben-Gay," this is absolutely true; there is nothing else named Ben-Gay. Other products may have exactly the same formula and do exactly the same thing, but "Nothing else is named Ben-Gay."

[As a side-note, I'd like to know who does the testing that allows the statement "Our cat [or dog] food tastes better." Again, better than what, and who found out?]

Buzz Words

Buzz words are words that seem to say something, but what? They are extremely popular in advertising. For example, a major word is "crisp" when applied to soft drinks or wine. What does this word mean? That the drink crackles like broken glass when you drink it? You chew it like potato chips?

"Natural" is a big buzz word, particularly applied to food and drink. However, what exactly is "natural"? Definitions of the word include "produced by nature," "not artificial," or "not cultivated or civilized." Thus what does the word mean when applied to, say, beer? If a beer is natural, is it produced by nature? Unlikely; it is produced in breweries and does not exist in nature. Is natural beer not artificial? Artificial means "made by humans." Since humans make the beer in breweries, then beer is definitely artificial. Is natural beer not cultivated or civilized? The behavior of beer drinkers is occasionally not cultivated or civilized, but beer is one of the first achievements of civilization. Then what exactly does it mean for beer to be natural: that it's not made of polyester? That someone's discovered a beer tree in a rain forest? In effect, the word natural applied to any product that doesn't exist in a finished state in nature is a buzz word.

Of course, there are products that exist in nature and can be called natural. What does it mean in those cases? For example, what is the difference between natural and refined honey? Basically, the difference is dirt. Refining honey does not change the honey, just removes extra non-honey items like dirt, bees' wax, and perhaps bees.

How about "organic"? Organic seems to mean that a product is produced naturally (see above). However, organic means "carbon-based", as in the difference between organic and inorganic chemistry. Thus, just about anything not made of rocks is organic; if you can digest it, it's organic. To many people, organic foods are more healthful because they are produced without the use of chemical fertilizers or other "unnatural" means. However, chemical fertilizers are organic, are produced organically, and thus are just as organic as organic fertilizers, like bird guano. They just have a bad reputation that comes more from the reputations of the companies that make it than the reputation of the fertilizer itself.

Thus, we can see that buzz words have little or no meaning in and of themselves. What meaning they do have is based on the connotations people give them (which often come from the way the people using them give them) rather then their actual denotative meanings.

Genetic Fallacy

The genetic fallacy makes a prediction about something based on where it came from or its origins. For example, saying "He wouldn't do that--he's from a good family" is making a genetic fallacy. "You can't expect any better from her--she's from the slums" is also using a genetic fallacy. Note that in neither case is there any reference to the individual's personal abilities or lack thereof; only to where they came from. In advertising, this fallacy is used often: "If it's made by [company], it must be good" is an example. Such statements may indeed by true, but they need evidence as proof, not merely a statement of origin.

Guilt by Association

Similar to the genetic fallacy is guilt by association, in which you attribute characteristics to someone or something based merely on the society they keep. It's the "lie down with dogs, get up with fleas" syndrome, where one's personal characteristics are overshadowed by the real or assumed characteristics of one's associates. If your friends or family are communists, you must be one, too. If you know a criminal, you're also a criminal. Again, it may be true, but association is not proof of anything.


Humpty Dumpty was very good at self-definition: "When I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean--neither more nor less." This fallacy is very popular with people who wish to mislead, and is particularly effective using those slippery words that have no concrete referent. Such words as truth, beauty, justice, democracy, patriotism, love, and defense mean just what the person using them says they mean, assuming he or she actually says what they mean. It is in this way that self-definition works best: use a word that you expect your audience to define one way, but mean another way when you use it.

Let's look at an example. A prime word is "justice". Most people will agree that justice is a consummation devoutly to be wished. However, when you use the word and get your audience to agree with your desire for justice, you may mean vigilantism. Demagogues use this technique with great effect.

In advertising self-definition is very effective. If the product is a beauty aid such as mascara or eyeliner or lipstick, the ad will show a model wearing the make-up. Her appearance is the definition of "beauty". To be "beautiful" the consumer must therefore use the advertised product.

Argumentum ad Hominem

This is latin for "argument to the person." In this type of argument you focus on the person or the person's personal life rather than on whatever issues are involved. It's particularly popular in political campaigning in which a person's war record, age, religion, hometown or state, or family (or lack thereof) is made the center of the argument rather than the person's stand or ideas about any issue.

It is evading rather than discussing the real issues that might make a difference to the people to whom the issues are important. Stating that "I was born on a farm" has nothing to do with a person's ideas about what to do about farms or trade or anything else. It simply says "I was born on a farm" ("what have you done and where have you lived since?" is a question that could be legitimately asked).

Ad hominem arguments are clearly evasive. However, it should always be borne in mind that some personal information is clearly of importance. Drug addiction, insanity, a criminal record that are or can be directly related to issues are of importance. What needs to be evaluated is the degree to which such personal facets are of importance; if they don't matter, they don't matter.

If they don't matter, when they are brought up they are fallacious.

Argumentum ad Populum

"Argument to the people." This is an appeal to emotion and/or prejudice to convince people to accept what you say, and is particularly popular in political speeches. Basically, it is telling people how wonderful they are and how what they think (no matter what they think) is right and proper, and anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot and a fool. Since most people prefer to be considered right and proper, rather than an idiot and a fool, they will agree with those who tell them they are right and proper.

Naturally, nobody is right about everything all the time. But if a political candidate tells a crowd, "You people have been telling Washington to stop [whatever], and they don't listen. Yet you know, as I know, that you have a true view of the world; those [left-wing; right-wing; liberal; conservative; pinko; wishy washy; any adjective of your choice] politicians haven't listened to us. When we speak, they should listen!" Note what happens in the above: 1) the people in the crowd are right; 2) the politician making the speech has included himself in their number; 3) those who disagree are negatively labeled; and 4) there is no evidence given whatsoever -- what the "people" say is right, no matter what they say.

A popular use is in advertising that uses the slogan "Made in America". This is an appeal to the patriotism of Americans (the "people") in an attempt to show that if a product is made anywhere else, it must be inferior. There is no proof given that the product is any betteror worse than one made in another country -- only that you should buy it because it was "made in America". Logically, the slogan is saying that it doesn't matter about quality, construction, price or anything else that most people consider important when making a purchase decision -- ignore all those factors and buy only because of origin.

Argumentum ad populum can be dangerous. It can be used to get crowds to lynch blacks, persecute homosexuals, or persecute Jews. As a matter of fact, it was -- Hitler used the argumentum ad populum in building up the attitude in the Germans of the 1930s that they were the master race and that blacks, homosexuals, Jews, and handicapped people were inferior and should not be allowed to live because they were not like the master race (there goes 14,000,000 people in the death camps).

Argumentum ad Vercundium

The argumentum ad vercundium is an appeal to tradition or authority in support of some contention. "If it was good enough for grandpa, it's good enough for me" is a capsule example of the argument. "As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be" is another.

Once again, no proof is given that the contention is correct, fits the evidence, applies in the situation or under the conditions. Politicians often evoke the spirit of Lincoln, FDR, John F. Kennedy, or even George Washington to support what they say. (In fact, the mentioning of Lincoln, in any connection, at a Republican convention will get cheers and applause; John F. Kennedy does the same with the democrats.) It makes absolutely no difference that Lincoln or Kennedy have no connection with and probably never said anything about what is being discussed; what is important is that they are demigods to listeners.

Let us take a major example. American separatists were fond of quoting George Washington and his advice, "avoid entangling alliances." Wonderful idea. Necessary for a weakling, virtually ignored country like the United States of 1790. Totally practicable -- in 1790. In today's world of the global village, with SSTs, 18 minutes from launch to New York City a radioactive hole, English a global language, and international marketing, financial markets and banking, absolutely impossible. Nonetheless, the authority of George Washington is enough to get people to agree with the idea of separation from the rest of the world.

Advertising often uses the argumentum ad vercundium. Advertising often uses famous actors, sports figures, and even politicians to endorse products and services. They are presented as authorities on the products as though they are experts. In fact they usually have no expertise, knowledge, or even regard for the quality or appropriate use of the product for the consumer -- they simply say they use it. That is enough.

False Cause and Effect

Since I used latin before, I'll use it here: post hoc, ergo propter hoc ("after this, therefore because of this")(go ahead and impress your friends).

Once again, it is a case of using jingoism to replace thinking. "Why did it have to rain today?" "Because you washed your car." There is no examination of inversion layers, isobars, air convection, or humidity -- there is washing a car. This is false cause and effect -- something occurs, and then something else happens; one must cause the other.

Let's look at some examples of using false cause and effect. "Permissive child rearing cause juvenile delinquency" (as a side note for the student to examine, there is no such thing as juvenile delinquency -- I suggest starting with a definition of the terms). Permissive child rearing may indeed cause juvenile deliquency: so might lack of jobs and education, drugs and the easy money it can generate, peer pressure, boredom, and mean spiritedness. Any, all, or a combination of the above can be the cause. Saying only one is false cause and effect.

"Pornography causes sex crimes" is another example. There is no proof that such is the case (in fact, studies have shown that pornography reduces sex crimes through sublimation of the other factors that may cause them). Such a statement is based on the idea that sex crimes have increased since the loosening of legal restrictions on certain types of pornography. It ignores factors such as increased awareness of sex crimes, increased reporting of sex crimes, increased definitions of sex crimes, changes in gender mix in the work place, the economy, the family, fashion, and interpersonal relationships.

Political speeches use false cause and effect as a given: "Unemployment (taxes, war, debt, disaffection, etc.) were all up during my opponent's administration." "Employment (less taxes, fewer wars, lower debt, satisfaction, etc.) were up during my administration." Again, other factors, most totally out of the control of either adminstration, are ignored.

A prime example comes from the anti-nuclear faction. After a period of nuclear tests there was a period of severe weather. Anti-nuclear forces said that the tests caused the severe weather. Meteorologists protested that the weather was a result of a change in the Gulf Stream, one they had predicted long before, and had nothing to do with the testing. It is much like two Neanderthals standing in the mouth of a cave looking at a downfall of rain and having one say, "We never had this kind of weather before they started making bows and arrows." This is not cause and effect -- it is post hoc, ergo propter hoc.

Appeal to Ignorance (argumentum ad ignorantiam)

The appeal to ignorance is basing an argument on the idea that a claim or theory must be correct because no one can prove that the claim or theory is wrong. Note that last word; the argument does not attempt to prove the claim is right, but that it must be because it can't be proven wrong.

Often this argument uses a false or at least unprovable cause-and-effect relationship and defies a challenger to show that the relationship is impossible.

For example, there are people who claim that wearing copper bracelets will bring about an improvement in those people who suffer from arthritis, and dare medical researchers to prove they don't. The researchers constantly state that such an effect cannot be supported by any medical or scientific evidence, and thus the promoters of the bracelets say nobody has proved they don't work, and thus they have a right to say they do.

An appeal to ignorance is the basis of religious arguments in which believers say there must be a god because nobody can prove there isn't, and nonbelievers say there isn't a god because nobody can prove there is. Both arguments must be considered spurious since they are based on defying the definition of religion, a belief or lack thereof in something that cannot be proven (if belief is not necessary, it is not a religion).

Special Pleading

Special pleading is the giving of only one side of an argument as though it contained all of the evidence. This is not to say that the points made are not true, or at least supported with reasonable evidence. The fault lies in that the position is so biased in one direction or another that it simply cannot be considered valid.

Special pleading is particularly popular in supporting or attacking institutions or systems that are based on opinion rather than demonstrable fact. These include political systems and religions. For example, there have been many attacks on Christianity, based on Biblical evidence such as Lot offering his virgin daughters to the mob if they would leave him alone (Gen. 19), God sending two bears to tear apart 42 children because they made fun of Elijah's bald head (2 Kings 2), or actions carried out "in the name of Christ" such as the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the destruction of the Amerindian civilizations. Arguments using this type of evidence are quite convincing, and also quite biased in that they ignore evidence on the other side. For example, the caring for people, the fact that the Church maintained and protected, and eventually promulgated the literature, philosophy and science of Rome, Greece and Asia during and after the Dark Ages, that it was one of the driving forces that led to the Western World's Era of Exploration.

Thus any argument that focuses only on the defects or merits of anything is open to the charge of bias and not proving anything.

Circular Arguments

A circular argument appears to move from a premise to a conclusion. However, what actually happens is the the main assertion is simply repeated, not supported. A general example is: A is proved by B is proved by C is proved by A. A specific example: "Jones cannot be trusted because she is an unreliable person." The premise is that Jones cannot be trusted; the support is that she is an unreliable person. However, the only support for the idea that she is unreliable is because she can't be trusted, which is supported by her being unreliable, which makes her untrustworthy, which makes her unreliable, which makes her untrustworthy, which makes her unreliable, which makes her untrustworthy, which makes her unreliable, which makes her untrustworthy, etc., etc., ad nauseum.

Sometimes even those who engage in circular arguments are not aware they are. For example, a sociological study was once conducted to see if masculine and feminine traits appeared in young children. The test was to put equal numbers of little boys and girls in a room full of toys and observe which toys each sex played with. As a result of the study it was concluded that the boys showed a preference for masculine toys, and the girls showed a preference for feminine toys, and that therefore feminine and masculine traits did indeed appear in young children.

There was only one problem with the conclusion: the definition of the toys as masculine or feminine. A closer examination of the study showed that the toys that were defined as masculine were those that the boys played with, and those defined as feminine were those the girls played with. From this it is easy to see that boys show masculine traits because they play with the toys they play with (whether they are tanks or dolls), and girls show feminine traits because they play with the toys they play with (whether they are tanks or dolls).

The premise is proven only by the premise. Such is not proof. Nonetheless, circular arguments can be quite effective if they are properly worded. For example: "The proposed gun control legislation is a left-wing plot because only Communists would scheme to take guns away from citizens." Such a statement could appear logical until it is examined. When examined it shows there is no proof offered about the legislation, only a statement that Communists are left-wing, and there is no proof of that.

The advantage of circular arguments is that many people don't take the time or effort to examine carefully constructed circular arguments.

"You're Another" (tu quoque)

"You're another" arguments evade the issues involved in the argument by attacking the person rather than the issues. For example, if someone says, "You cheat on your expense account," a you're another response could be, "Who are you to talk? You cheat on your income tax." Notice there is no response to the original charge, just a deflection to something totally beside the point.


A euphemism is using a word to soften what you are actually saying. Euphemisms are particularly used when a need or desire arises to discuss something that is normally considered taboo, in bad taste, or offensive to someone in your audience. Such topics include bodily functions or facilities necessary for them (a "necessary" is a euphemism for a bathroom, which is a euphemism for a room which is used only 5% of the time for bathing), death, sex, money, illness, etc.

Euphemisms in themselves are not fallacious. They only become so when they are used to cover up what you are actually saying. This does not mean you should be vulgar; know to whom you are speaking and don't set out to defy or offend them. Nonetheless, it is possible to mislead an audience through using euphemisms.

The Vietnam War and press conferences about it were fertile grounds for euphemisms. For example, there was the "free fire zone". It sounds like giving away damaged merchandise after a store burned down; it means blow away everything that moves in a certain area.

Another example: "resource control program". This sounds like protecting Bambi in the forest. It actually means remove the forest.

And yet another: "accidental delivery of ordinance equipment". From this you can get the impression that the truck went to the wrong address. In actuality it means, "we just bombed the hell out of our own guys."

From the above examples it should be clear that the use of euphemisms can soften the impact of what is being said to avoid offending the sensibilities of the audience. They can also be used to hide what really is meant. It is the latter case that makes the use of euphemisms a fallacy.

The word "euphemism" is an interesting case in point. The translation of euphemism from Greek is "to lie". Thus we can see that euphemism is a euphemism for euphemism (you tell a lie to cover up the fact that telling a lie is lying). I suppose it is only poetic justice that we should use that word for what it stands for.


The above are not all of the logical fallacies that are used when communicating, but they should allow you to perceive them when they occur, and recognize them when you use them yourself.

The use of fallacies is not unusual. If they were, I would have had to work much harder to come up with examples. As it was, I had to do almost no work at all. In fact, being fallacious is much easier than not. All that is required is a habit or inclination of making statements without supporting them or a lack of concern for or desire to prove points rather than maneuver an audience into accepting them.

This is not to say that fallacies will not appear in the most carefully thought out and constructed essay or speech. If you remember that all ideas are subjective, then some fallacy is bound to appear simply because everyone thinks that something is so axiomatic that it requires no proof. Thus, the idea could be expressed using one of the above methods by accident. Learning to avoid such accidents is one of the purposes of this book. Nonetheless, do not expect perfection, either from yourself or others. If everything is subjective, perfection is impossible.

However, if you are thinking of deliberately using one or more of fallacies in your work, there are some caveats you should consider.

First, there are ethical considerations. Using fallacies makes you dishonest. After all, deception is deception, lying is lying, even if you call it euphemism. Deliberately using fallacies is lying to the audience, setting out to mislead them, taking advantage of them. Would you like someone doing that to you?

However, for those of us who have no ethics, let's look at some practical considerations. First, to use fallacies you must assume that your audience is too stupid to notice. You are basically saying, "I'm going to lie to you, to deceive you, to take advantage of your gullibility, and you're too dumb to notice." If you think that, you deserve what happens to you. Audiences are not stupid; they are often as well if not better educated and aware than you are. Thus you are insulting them, and insulting your audience is not a good way to get them to agree with you. If they give you the benefit of the doubt, they will consider you a sloppy thinker; at worst they'll turn against you.

Second, you will lose your argument. Deceiving your audience on one point will make anything else you say, no matter how well presented or supported, suspect. The Ronald Reagan administration had a problem when it was revealed that they were putting out a "disinformation" (a euphemism for "lying") program to the American people. For months thereafter no matter what information was given out about what the administration was doing was considered another piece of "disinformation" (read "lie"). It took a great deal of public relations, apologies and promises not to do it again to repair the damage, but everyone could still see the patches and was suspicious of the validity of the information.

When nobody believes what you say, how can you convince anybody that what you say is correct? Thus, unless you really work at it, using fallacies is a bad idea, if only because you want to win your arguments.


Words are the province of human beings. They are symbols that stand for direct and indirect impressions. They have both denotative meanings and connotative meanings, and choosing words according to their meanings influences which impressions are recalled from storage.

Thus, they are valuable to the individual in thinking. However, their importance lies in the fact that other people can understand them. They can also recall from storage impressions, based on the words you say or write to them. Words can therefore be used in communicating your thoughts to others.

However, words can be slippy things. What you think you're communicating may not be what is received by your audience. Abstract words, those without concrete referents, may not mean the same things to everyone. In addition, it is possible to consciously or unconsciously make errors in word choices, thus misleading your audience about what you are actually saying.

Nonetheless, until telepathy becomes a viable form of communication, words are the only thing we have to share our thoughts with others.

Go To Chapter Eight: Everyone's Favorite Method of Communicating -- Talking

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