A close up of an opened dictionary focused on the word "justice."

The Loaded Language ABCs

The United States promotes the myth that while the citizens of less-enlightened countries are forced to use doublespeak and recite propaganda, the free-thinking American may talk plainly and truthfully. How shocking, then, it is to find stereotypical loaded language pervading political, journalistic, and common speech. This loaded language is exclusively deployed to the benefit of U.S. state elites and their interests. Interrogating this loaded language allows us to think about the society we live in differently—and prepares us to reconstruct it in the interests of justice and liberation. 

See previous editions of the ARD Loaded Language ABC’s here and here


• Practice media literacy to identify loaded language and politically-charged terms in common political discourse.

• Support the community organizations linked below each definition whose struggles are minimized by misusing politically-charged terms. 


Means: Democracy means “rule of the people.” A democratic society allows its members to decide the conditions of their own societies and lives. In a representative democracy, political leaders are selected by the general population through elections, with the candidate receiving the most votes taking office. The United States government portrays itself as a global standard of democracy. 

Unless: It’s presidential elections decided in part by musical chairs. The first step in selecting the Democratic nominee for president is the Iowa caucuses, an event the BBC describes as “musical chairs… with baked goods” (BBC). In the general election, some votes are worth much more than others because of gerrymandering (History). After a candidate is selected, they might win a majority of votes but fail to take office because of the Electoral College, as in the cases of Al Gore in 2000 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 (WorldAtlas). Many key decisions are made by the entirely unelected Supreme Court. That’s why a Princeton study found “average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence” on U.S. legislation (BBC). 

Support local activism in your community. 


Means: A henchman is the “trusted follower” of a leader, whose support “is chiefly for personal advantage” (Merriam-Webster). The lackeys of Disney villains are described as henchmen (Collider). Vladimir Putin is said to have “henchmen,” including the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and domestic journalists (Yahoo!). Mike Pence described the Venezuelan National Guard as the president’s “henchmen” (CBS).

Unless: They aren’t an adversary of the U.S. government, in which case they would be run-of-the-mill religious leaders, journalists, and soldiers. No mainstream U.S. publication would dream of describing the Buckingham Palace guard as “the King Charles’s henchmen.” Media outlets that uncritically endorse White House decisions are not called “Biden’s henchmen.” Though U.S. soldiers serve under the direct command of the President, and the military has committed documented aggression and brutality around the globe, U.S. Coast Guard members are not referred to as “the President’s henchmen,” either. 

Support Critical Resistance and the movement to abolish the henchmen of the U.S. regime


Means: “An irrational belief that an object, action, or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its outcome” (Wordnik). White America has long discounted people of color as superstitious and, therefore, “primitive.” Black people were depicted as having superstition as an “innate racial trait” (Cambridge). African diaspora faiths like Voodoo and Santería are described as “superstitions,” not religions (Harvard). Immigrant customs from around the world are also described as superstitions. The implication is that people of color are less rational and intelligent than white Americans, who are free of such irrational beliefs. 

Unless: Your faith falls within the bounds of U.S. civil religion. Many forms of Protestant Christianity are seen as inherently worthy of respect and toleration in a way that Islam, Santería, or Hinduism are not. This is not because the central beliefs of these forms of Protestantism are any less contested by those non-believers but because U.S. political elites have used religion to justify abuse of power. 

Support Equality Labs and Muslims for Just Futures


Means: “The use of violence or the threat of violence, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political goals” (American Heritage Dictionary). 

Unless: You’re committing terrorism as part of a “War on Terror.” In 2008, the U.S. regime began the illegal invasion of Iraq with what it promoted to its own citizens as a strategy of “shock and awe.” This meant launching a devastating air attack against Baghdad, a city that at the time had more residents than the current population of Los Angeles. “There will not be a safe place in Baghdad,” bragged one military official. The objective was the “psychological destruction of the enemy’s will to fight” through massive violence against civilian targets (CBS News). Though over twice as many civilians died in the initial invasion of Iraq than in the 9/11 attacks (Iraq Body CountBBC), the U.S. viewers cheering the televised air strikes did not recognize them as terrorism. 

Support the Arab Resource and Organizing Center

Welfare queen

Means: The bipartisan effort to “end” welfare, as Bill Clinton put it (History), was fueled by popular outrage at “welfare queens”: women living lives of luxury because of the money they were able to fraudulently acquire from overly-generous government benefits. Welfare fraud is actually very rare. Though the single person who formed the basis of the trope was mixed-race, the “welfare queen” was coded almost exclusively as a Black woman. The result? What many people think of as welfare—cash payments by the government to needy people—effectively no longer exists in the United States (The Nation). 

Unless: You’re a billionaire. Julia Koch and her children inherited a 42% share of the second-largest corporation in the United States from her husband David (Forbes). Though David’s brother Charles spoke out against corporate welfare, Koch Industries benefited from over $77 million of corporate welfare in the form of government subsidies (IBT). Julia Koch and her children are worth $59 billion, money they didn’t work for as their family deceptively claimed to oppose the corporate welfare they grew it with. 

Take action with radical wealth redistribution


• Discussions of political or social issues commonly include loaded language that inhibits clear conversation. 

• Politically-charged terms reinforce prejudices that support the interests of powerful institutions. 

• We don’t have to use loaded language to clearly describe positive or negative actions, practices, policies, or institutions. 

1920 1280 Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee is a writer and organizer plotting a better world in Philadelphia. His work has previously appeared in Notes From Below, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Plan A Magazine, ROAR Magazine, and Teen Vogue.

All stories by : Andrew Lee
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