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23rd July 14
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emotive language


Emotive Language

If something is emotive it makes people emotional. If you have just had your new bike stolen then your friends might avoid boasting about their bikes: bikes are an emotive subject for you at the moment.

Newspapers often choose emotive language (words) to get their readers to react emotionally to a story. If you call an event a 'riot' rather than a 'disturbance' you are much more likely to get your readers excited.

Below are four pairs of headlines.

In each pair which headline is most likely to excite the reader? (a) or (b)?

  1. (a) Scabs thrown out of the union
    (b) Strike breakers must leave union
  1. (a) Fire at school
    (b) School blaze
  1. (a) Skilful Graf
    (b) Graf magic
  1. (a) Stewart injured
    (b) Stewart agony

You probably found that easy.

Now read the headlines below. Re-write them, replacing the words in bold with more emotive words. The first two have been done for you as examples .

  1. Man hit by robbers
    ( Pensioner hit by muggers )
  1. A hundred peasants killed by troops
    (A hundred peasants slaughtered by troops)
  1. Argument closes factory
  1. Train seats cut by teenagers
  1. House prices fall throughout country
  1. Supporters run onto pitch
  1. Shortage of money creates problems in schools
  1. Trouble on roads after snow fall
  1. Player hits referee.
  1. Political meeting ends in disturbance

Re-read The Star's report about the school 'riot'. It is printed below. The report uses a lot of emotive language. For example, it uses "mob" instead of crowd or group ; "refused" instead of declined or decided not .

Bored pupils riot as staff walk out

A MOB of 300 youngsters ran riot through their school yesterday - because they were bored.
   It happened when teachers at the 100-staff comprehensive refused to do dinner duties and walked out in a union dispute.
   Only the headmaster and two teachers were on duty, and they wre powerless to act.
   People living nearby watched, terrified, as gangs of 15 and 16 year olds rampaged through the 1000-pupil school at Bideford, Devon, chanting "We want a riot" as they smashed windows.
   Police who rushed to the giant complex in seven cars calmed the frantic pupils.


As the afternoon lessons ended the youngsters said they were protesting about being confined to one playground.
   "We were bored and had nothing to do," they said. "We will continue our action until the teachers dispute is over.
   "We brought screwdrivers and hammers to school and stole knives from the canteen."

(The Star)



  1. What quieter, less emotive words could the report have used instead of "terrified" (paragraph 4); "frantic" (paragraph 5)?
  1. How do we feel about:
    1. the "youngsters", and
    2. the teachers who "refused to do dinner duties"?
  1. Explain how the writer's choice of words makes us feel these things about the pupils and the teachers.


You have now learnt two important things:

bullet Newspaper reports often use language that is emotive rather than factual and neutral.
bullet This emotive language affects the way we feel about people and things in the reports.