Tiny tweaks in word choice make a difference

In 1973, America watched as then President Richard Nixon vehemently declared on national television, “I am not a crook” in regards to the Watergate scandal.

Not many people believed him.

In fact, as soon as he uttered the word “crook,” most people immediately envisioned a crook.

The major mistake Nixon made was in his framing. By saying the word “crook,” he evoked an image, experience, or knowledge associated with crook in the minds of everyone watching. 

George Lakoff, a professor in cognitive science and linguistics at University of California, Berkeley, makes the point in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant! that when trying to get your point across, refrain from using the other side’s language. Doing so will activate and strengthen their frames and undermine your own views. Instead, successfully arguing a point requires you to establish your own frames and use language that evokes images and ideas that fit the worldview you want.

Think about it this way: Something that has a “95% effective rate” will sell better than something with a “5% failure rate.” It’s all in how you frame it.

Vivian Giange, writing in Fast Company