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    


Someone once said, “Profanity is a lazy man’s way of trying to be emphatic.” I choose not to swear, not only for religious reasons, but also because it shows a lack of creativity on the speaker's part. Profanity is similar to using "good" to describe everything. The game was good. The example was good. That's good writing. Good video. What does that mean? It's inexact and lazy. Like the overuse of the word "good," profanity doesn't say much of anything. It's the spewing of emotions. While there is value in expression, dumping raw emotion on others may just fool us into thinking we are serving up honesty when actually we are hiding our feelings from ourselves.

Be more exact or wait until you know what you want to say. At least don't use bland and overworked terms. Profanity is a way to tell others, "See? I really, really mean what I'm saying. I'm stomping my little foot and throwing a little fit verbally. What I'm saying is important because I am using these magical naughty words."

Stephen Goforth