Why Words Matter: What Cognitive Science Says About Prohibiting Certain Terms

From Scientific American:

WordsThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is typically tasked with conducting critical science, and its myriad jobs include trying to prevent Zika-related birth defects and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among transgender women. But when the CDC makes its case for 2018 budget funds, it should not use seven specific words: evidence-based, science-based, vulnerable, fetus, transgender, diversity or entitlement, according to the Trump administration. The news, broken by The Washington Post, sent tremors through the public health and policy communities. “Are you kidding me?!?!” tweeted Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon. “This. Is. Unacceptable,” wrote the American Public Health Association. The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, did not immediately respond to Scientific American’s request for comment. How much does it really matter if a government agency avoids certain language in documents sent to Congress, the Office of Management and Budget and other agencies? Perhaps a great deal. Scientific American spoke with Lera Boroditsky, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, San Diego, about the significance of this recent news, why words matter and how language changes our perceptions of the world.

What happens when we use certain words and not others in our daily life or in our work?
Words have power. If I tell you this hamburger is 80 percent lean as opposed to 20 percent fat, then in some sense I am communicating the same thing. But what people get from those two communications is very different: People perceive the 80 percent lean hamburger as much healthier than the 20 percent fat option. By choosing how you frame and talk about something, you are cuing others to think about it in a specific way. We can drastically change someone’s perspective by how we choose to talk about and frame something.

More here.