Steven Pinker: The Stuff of Thought
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
The conjugational formula
The concept of connotation is often explained by the conjugational formula devised by Bertrand Russell in a 1950s radio interview: I am firm; you are obstinate, he is pigheaded. The formula was turned into a word game at a radio show and newspaper feature and elicited hundreds of triplets: I am slim; you are thin; he is scrawny. I am a perfectionist; you are anal; he is a control freak. I am exploring my sexuality; you are promiscuous; she is a slut. In each triplet the literal meaning of the words is held constant, but the emotional meaning ranges from attractive to neutral to offensive.