1. Education
Richard Nordquist

Connotative Conjugations: "I Educate; You Indoctrinate; They Brainwash"

By January 25, 2013

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On a BBC radio program in 1948, philosopher Bertrand Russell playfully conjugated an "irregular verb" as "I am firm; you are obstinate; he is a pig-headed fool."

Russell's point was to show how words convey attitudes and feelings (that is, connotations) as well as literal meanings (denotations). When readers of the New Statesman magazine were invited to submit their own "emotional conjugations," they responded with enthusiasm (or, depending on your perspective, with gusto or idiotic fervor). Here are some of the published entries:

  • I am righteously indignant; you are annoyed; he is making a fuss about nothing.

  • I am a creative writer; you have a journalistic flair; he is a prosperous hack.

  • I have reconsidered it; you have changed your mind; he has gone back on his word.

  • I am sparkling; you are unusually talkative; he is drunk.

  • I am beautiful; you have quite good features; she isn't bad-looking, if you like that type.

  • I daydream; you are an escapist; he ought to see a psychiatrist.

  • I have about me something of the subtle, haunting, mysterious fragrance of the Orient; you rather overdo it, dear; she stinks.
Now that I've succinctly explained the concept (which you might elaborate upon and others surely would belabor), why not submit some connotative conjugations of your own? Simply click on the comments link below.

More About Word Meanings:

Blackboard: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms (Merriam-Webster, Inc., 1984)


January 27, 2013 at 11:59 am
(1) Amy Neagoe wordpress says:

Dear Ph.D, mr. professor Nordquist,
thank you again for your very useful information, for any person who has a real BA at least, but contrary I’m neither a BA nor a Post-graduated in Linguistics, like you are, and I’ve been also left jobless and single ,with no possibility in this Capital of the corrupted Romania who’s citizen by birth I am, please let me ask for your help in my interest with the diplomacy and different grammar-and-speech protocols, within different countries, as US and the U.K. may be, first.
In conclusion, please let me ask you for information about different dennotations a speech may have, in different nations and country-regions, too, for my diplomatic everyday practice(not-paid), indeed.
In the end, please let me assure you on my devotion to your knowledge to me,
Your friend, Amy Neagoe

January 28, 2013 at 11:59 am
(2) Patricia Francis-Wilson says:

I am cultivated, you are rather nice, what is SHE doing here
I am welcomed, you are accepted, he is tolerated (a rich father)

I think this is a brilliant page Richard – I have copied it and am now looking for others

I very much like the wit an humour of the articles you present

January 28, 2013 at 12:55 pm
(3) kerry wood says:


How about: She is slender. She’s a bit skinny. She has to jump around in the shower to get wet.

I don’t know whether this is the place for folk etymologies but: the word “sincere” comes from the Latin words sine (without) and cera (wax). In ancient days pot makers used to disguise leaks by filling them with wax.
The buyer of the pot would be satisfied until he filled the pot with hot water or other liquid. The heat would melt the wax and cause the pot to leak. Honest pot makers would advertise their non-leaking pots as sine cera (ablative) or sincere.

January 28, 2013 at 1:49 pm
(4) mikehayward says:

nice comment re sincere. I’ve also heard the same about Roman sculptors working in marble, filling imperfections with wax. Potential buyers, suspecting a flaw, would run their fingernail along surface of the statue or sculpted object, then inspect their finger.

January 28, 2013 at 5:33 pm
(5) Sally says:

An oldie but a goodie:

“I glow, you perspire, he sweats like a pig.”

January 28, 2013 at 7:15 pm
(6) blu-k says:

My child is a genius, yours is precocious, theirs is an irritating know-it-all!

January 28, 2013 at 7:17 pm
(7) Lynn says:

I am relaxed, you’re idle, he’s lazy

February 11, 2013 at 11:48 am
(8) Ted Scholten says:

Sally’s comment is of course a version of that ditty: “Horses sweat; Men perspire, but Ladies only glow.”

March 1, 2013 at 5:57 am
(9) Muhammad says:

I love what i read. GOD BLESS U

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