I am exploring my sexuality; you are promiscuous; she is a slut; a guide to emotive conjugations

Recently I have been re-reading parts of Steven Pinker’s The Stuff of Thought. At the beginning of the book he talks about emotive conjugations. The title of this post is a perfect example of how word have denotations and connotations. They satirise the human tendency to view our own intentions and actions as positive, while attributing a more negative interpretation of others’. They are also called Russell conjugations in honour of philosopher Bertrand Russell who explained the concept in 1948 on the BBC Radio programme The Brains Trust with these three examples:

I am firm; you are obstinate; He is a pig-headed fool.

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

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

If you remember the series Yes Minister, one of the characters Bernard Wooley was a master of the art:

I have an independent mind, you are eccentric, He is round the twist.

I give confidential security briefings. You leak. He has been charged under section 2a of the Official Secrets Act.

Felipe Fernández-Armesto has a great one:

All definitions of civilization … belong to a conjugation which goes: ‘I am civilized, you belong to a culture, he is a barbarian.’

Humorist Craig Brown often uses this format to great effect. Here is a selection of my favourites:

I am a traveller; you are a sightseer; He is a tourist.

I am highly intelligent; you are an intellectual; he is too clever by half.

Our children are in high spirits; your children are letting off steam; their children are an utter nuisance.

I like to make my views; you like to make your views known; he likes the sound of his own voice.

I am up-and-coming; you are ambitious; he is on the make.

I’m sociable. you’re drunk; he’s George Best.

I am an epicure; you are a gourmand; he has both feet in the trough.

 I am a raconteur; you are an anecdotalist; he is a crashing bore.

I am slim; you are thin; he is scrawny.

I am fluent; you get by in restaurants; he is a show-off.

I make worthwhile points; you hold forth; he just won’t shut up

I remain loyal to my leader; you toe the party line; he is cannon-fodder.

I am artistic; you are a Bohemian; he wears an old jersey and smells.

Mine was an error of judgement; yours was a Greek tragedy; his was a disgraceful episode.

I say what I mean, you are outspoken; he is a loose cannon.

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

My top is décolleté; your top is risqué; her top is tarty.

 I favour the more natural look; you could do with a bit more make-up; she is looking her age.

 I am shy; you are a loner; he is a paranoid

 I am friendly; you are forward; she is pushy

We have a guide; you have a tour leader; they have a courier.

Our children enjoyed pommes frites; your children ate french fries; their children stuffed themselves with chips.

I am grappling with the meaning of life; you are coming over all philosophical; he’s not making any sort of sense.

I misinterpret the rules; you bend the rules; he breaks the rules.

We met some marvellous local characters; you were buttonholed by street traders; they never shook off the beggars.

I get what I want; you kick up a fuss; he throws his weight around.

My shirt is fun; your shirt is loud; what’s he trying to prove?

I built up a sound financial base to ensure my future independence; you sailed pretty close to the wind; he lined his pockets.

I am a perfectionist; you are anal; he is a control freak.

We accompanied our children around the splendid 16th-century cathedral; you took your children around the splendid 16th-century cathedral; they dragged their children around the splendid 16th-century cathedral.

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3 Responses to I am exploring my sexuality; you are promiscuous; she is a slut; a guide to emotive conjugations

  1. Alberto says:

    Fantastic and also realistic; that’s exactly how we see ourselves and judge others.

  2. […] am going to define Scientology as a religion because I feel that words like cult and sect are emotive conjugations. Scientology’s beliefs may appear to be wacky, but wackiness is in the eye of the beholder. […]

  3. Steve says:

    I love these. I was listening to Craig Brown on BBC Radio 4 Extra (currently airing on Friday nights) and had to see if there was a transcript of them anyway. Thankfully searching for “I am a traveller; you are a sightseer; they are tourists” brought me here! Thanks!

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