Emotive conjugation

In rhetoric, emotive or emotional conjugation mimics the form of a grammatical conjugation of an irregular verb to illustrate humans' tendency to describe their own behavior more charitably than the behavior of others.[1]

It is often called the Russell's conjugation[2] in honour of philosopher Bertrand Russell who expounded the concept in 1948 on the BBC Radio programme The Brains Trust,[3] citing the examples:[4]

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.

Used seriously, such loaded language[4] can lend false support to an argument by obscuring a fallacy of meaning. The inherent incongruity also lends itself to humor,[5] as employed by Bernard Woolley in the BBC television series Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister:[6][7]

It's one of those irregular verbs, isn't it?
I have an independent mind, You are eccentric, He is round the twist.[8]

That's another of those irregular verbs, isn't it?
I give confidential press briefings; you leak; he's being charged under section 2A of the Official Secrets Act.[9]


  1. ^ Ralph Henry Johnson, J. Anthony Blair (2006). Logical self-defense. p. 160 "The Freeloading Term". ISBN 978-1-932716-18-4.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  2. ^ Robert S. Hartman, The Knowledge of Good: Critique of Axiological Reason, Rodopi, 2002, p. 207.
  3. ^ Robert Audi, ed. (1999). Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy (2nd ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 223. ISBN 978-0-521-63136-5.
  4. ^ a b Douglas N. Walton (2006). Fundamentals of critical argumentation. Cambridge University Press. p. 220. ISBN 978-0-521-82319-7.
  5. ^ Antony J. Chapman, Hugh C. Foot (1996). Humor and laughter: theory, research, and applications. p. 86. ISBN 978-1-56000-837-8.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  6. ^ Jonathan Lynn, Antony Jay (1984). The Complete Yes Minister. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-20665-9.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  7. ^ Jonathan Lynn, Antony Jay (1989). The Complete Yes Prime Minister. BBC Books. ISBN 0-563-20773-6.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  8. ^ Yes, Prime Minister: The Bishop's Gambit
  9. ^ Yes, Prime Minister: Man Overboard

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