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Word meanings have two parts. The denotation of a word is a factual definition that can be found in a dictionary. The connotation, on the other hand, is the definition plus any emotional and cultural associations that go along with it. A negative connotation is the language term for a connotation that has unpleasant or bad overtones.
A word with a negative connotation has emotional baggage. As the previous sentence shows, the connotation of a word can change based on its context or how it is used in a sentence. The words "emotional" and "baggage" do not necessarily have negative connotations on their own, but together they do have a negative connotation. For example, if someone is said to have emotional baggage, people may think that he or she is unstable or should seek counseling.
Socially, people agree that many words have either positive or negative connotations. Without this agreement on language people could not communicate very well. For example, most people will agree that the word "thrifty" has a positive association with the idea of a practical person who does not spend money needlessly. The word "cheap," on the other hand, has a negative connotation and is often seen as an insult. Like thrifty, however, cheap also describes someone who does not spend money lavishly, but it is usually associated with a miserly, stingy person.
Negative connotation can depend on individual perception as well. The word "snake" has negative connotations for many people since the fear of snakes is common. The mere mention of the word snake makes some people shudder; yet it is a delightful word to a herpetologist — a zoologist who specializes in the study of snakes. Individual perception of a word can become even more defined depending on the person’s experience and psychological makeup. If a person loses his or her life savings due to a financial advisor‘s shady investments, the term "financial advisor" may have a negative connotation for that person.
Writers, who often work their magic by making associations between words and images, must be very attentive to connotation and its impact. Literature and poems are written to elicit emotion. The writer’s focus on words and their context within a poem or novel help him or her to express both ideas and emotions. For example, a poet might write, “the squirrels bicker in the trees.” The negative connotation of the word "bicker" helps to create an image of how noisy and boisterous squirrels can be.
@rugbygirl - What it means to be objective is always an open question, and you're right, it's impossible - for more reasons than language alone. Human beings are subjective by their very nature. We see the world through our own filters and it is unreasonable to expect otherwise. Usually, the best we can do is try to be aware of those filters and account for them.
Adjectives are always loaded. If you are really trying to describe objectively, it can help to avoid them altogether. If you want to say that someone was thrifty/stingy, instead say something like, "Although the family income was well above average, she continued to line dry the family clothing" or "His wife, homemaker, often complained to friends that he did not give her enough money to buy groceries." If true, those are revealing statements; no need for *you* to tell the reader what they mean.
It seems as though in English, it is almost impossible to describe someone or something objectively, because our words are so loaded with value judgments!
So you want to mention that someone is careful with a dollar. Are they, as the article asks, thrifty or stingy? (Don't even think of trying to describe them as "niggardly," which means the same thing, as people will willfully misunderstand you and hear an n-word which simply isn't there.) Was the person rich or wealthy? Generous or profligate?
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