3 Ideas in 2 Minutes on Language and Our Thinking
Russell Conjugation, Misinformation Effect & Mamihlapinatapai
I. Russell Conjugation
Russell Conjugation, aka Emotive Conjugation, can be used to manipulate how people think of us and others — or to entertain. Named after British philosopher Bertrand Russell, it’s derived from the idea of conjugating irregular English verbs. Here’s how it works.
When describing an event or person, think of a neutral verb or adjective. Then pick synonyms depending on whether you want those involved to be seen in a positive or negative light.
I explained it, you schooled him, and she pontificated over it.
I am passionate. You are angry. He is unhinged.
Needless to say, we tend to use more charitable expressions when describing our own behaviour. Look for Russell Conjugation in news reports and opinion pieces. Perhaps the person who was purportedly “eviscerated” verbally was merely being informed of a fact she didn’t know and happily conceded a point.
II. Misinformation Effect
The Misinformation Effect suggests that new information can have a distorting effect on how eyewitnesses remember events. Watching a car crash unfold before our own eyes creates a memory. This memory is malleable, though. It can be altered in retrospect depending on the questions we’re being asked about the event.
In a classic 1974 experiment, psychologists Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer showed students various films of car accidents. They were then asked to assess the speed of the cars involved.
About how fast were the cars going when they (smashed / collided / bumped / hit / contacted) each other?
The test person’s answers varied depending on the verb used in the question. While students assessed the “smashing” cars to go almost 41 mph, the vehicles “contacting” were thought to be nearly 10 mph slower.
One reason we use language is to transmit our ideas to one another. Sometimes, a single word is enough to capture a deep thought. Mamihlapinatapai is a term famously used by the Yaghan people, a tribe of Tierra del Fuego, South America’s most southern stretch of land. Here’s how the “untranslatable” word can be translated:
A look shared by two people, each wishing that the other would initiate something that they both desire but which neither wants to begin.
Source: Atlas Obscura
Have a great week,