Common techniques > Word games
Name calling

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  "Bad names have played a tremendously powerful role in the history of the world and in our own individual development. They have ruined reputations, stirred men and women to outstanding accomplishments, sent others to prison cells, and made men mad enough to enter battle and slaughter their fellowmen. They have been and are applied to other people, groups, gangs, tribes, colleges, political parties, neighborhoods, states, sections of the country, nations, and races." (Institute for Propaganda Analysis, 1938)

The name-calling technique links a person, or idea, to a negative symbol. The propagandist who uses this technique hopes that the audience will reject the person or the idea on the basis of the negative symbol, instead of looking at the available evidence.

The most obvious type of name calling involves bad names. For example, consider the following:
  • Commie
  • Fascist
  • Pig
  • Yuppie
  • Bum
  • Queer
  • Terrorist
A more subtle form of name-calling involves words or phrases that are selected because they possess a negative emotional charge. Those who oppose budget cuts may characterize fiscally conservative politicians as "stingy." Supporters might prefer to describe them as "thrifty." Both words refer to the same behavior, but they have very different connotations. Other examples of negatively charged words include:
  • social engineering
  • radical
  • cowardly
  • counter-culture
The name-calling technique was first identified by the Institute for Propaganda Analysis (IPA) in 1938. According to the IPA, we should ask ourselves the following questions when we spot an example of name-calling.
  • What does the name mean?
  • Does the idea in question have a legitimate connection with the real meaning of the name?
  • Is an idea that serves my best interests being dismissed through giving it a name I don't like?
  • Leaving the name out of consideration, what are the merits of the idea itself?