Bruce Murray, College of Education The Reading Genie


Value-Laden Words

An author will frequently use emotional language that is value-ladened to sway our opinions.  These words reflect the bias of the author and can express positive or negative opinions or biases toward the subject.  Sometimes these words are referred to as loaded words.

Would you like to be told that you are a bumbling idiot or that you are a courageous intellectual?  Either phrase reflects a bias–the first is negative and the last is positive.

Authors intend to use these words to influence the reader.  Words are powerful tools for swaying the thoughts of readers.  Are you going to allow your thoughts, ideas, and opinions to be swayed by someone?  Critical readers learn to recognize these words and think for themselves.

Practice: Can you translate value-ladened words into neutral language?

  1. Where are the loaded words in this sentence?  Scroll down to check your choices. 

The sexy model slinked down the runway.  The hunk flexed his gorgeous biceps.

2. Try another sentence. Scroll down to check your choices. 

The old goat smashed into the motorcycle with his car.  Old lady Smith makes me sick.

3. Try to change the loaded words into neutral language. Scroll down to check your choices. 

Denotative and Connotative Meanings

If you were described as young by one person and childish by another, which would be more appealing?  The way you respond deals with the connotations of these words.  The denotation is the meaning of a word from the dictionary.  The connotation is the emotional meaning attached to the word in addition to the dictionary meaning.  As you begin to read critically, you should be aware of both connotative and denotative meanings of words.  You should also be wary of an author who uses words with strong connotations.

How can we determine the difference? 

Think about the word disabled.  What is the denotative meaning?  What is the connotative meaning? 

Obviously, the denotative meaning is easy to find in the dictionary.  However, the reader brings various connotative meanings based on the experiences of the particular reader.  Some may associate the word disabled with terms and phrases such as handicapped people, freaks, nonproductive members of society, etc.  Connotations can be positive or negative.  The author can use these words to sway the readers opinions in a positive or negative light.

Practice: Use denotative and connotative words to describe your last class. 

1.  Write two descriptions of your last class. 
2.  The first description should describe exactly what happened in class–using denotations. 
3.  The second description should use words to make students in the next class eager to attend class or make students dread the class–using connotations. 

Answers to exercises

  1. Did you choose sexy and slinked?
  2. Did you choose old goat, smashed, old lady Smith, and sick?
  3. Two possible sentences for each of the examples are . . .The model walked down the runway. 
    The man showed his biceps. 
    The man hit a motorcycle with his car. 
    Mrs. Smith is not my favorite person.

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Last modified: January 6, 2018