Violence in Language

Jack Krupansky
6 min readSep 9, 2016

This informal paper asserts that the use of violence in language is generally misguided, possibly harmful, and generally not in the best interests of a free and open society. It cheapens discourse. Reason, being reasonable, and remaining calm, are much more acceptable, advisable, and admirable — and productive — than resorting to violence even if only in the form of language, and that violence in language is not a virtue. And this includes both written and spoken language, or any other form of expression for that matter.

And this includes force as well. Force and violence are close cousins. Force alone may not cause the kind of harm and destruction normally associated with outright violence, but the point is that whether violence or merely force is used, the intent is to unfairly and unreasonably deprive another of liberty and property, and the pursuit of happiness. Coercion, intimidation, and threats are unreasonable even if no blood is shed or bones broken, or property stolen, damaged, or destroyed.

Background

It has become common for language to be used as a form of force to compel or incite action or an involuntary response.

It is not uncommon to see language used in a very forceful manner, as if it actually were a form of violence.

Thesis

The thesis motivating this paper is that language is best used to communicate ideas and to persuade, with persuasion focused on positive arguments based on reason and appeals to positive emotions, and that resorting to the language of violence lowers the level of discourse and cheapens it, demeaning the value of facts, merit, and reason.

Communicate and persuade vs. attack and incite

The proposition put forth in this paper is that language should be restricted to communication and persuasion and not be used to attack and demean others or to incite a negative or irrational response or action from others.

Incitement

The main focus of this paper is on the actual language used rather than the intent per se. Incitement is generally prohibited anyway. And incitement can occur even with relatively mild language that conveys a heavy meaning even with words which individually may be quite mild. This paper suggests that even if actual harm or violence is not incited, the mere resort to violence in language is itself problematic.

Why resort to the use of violence in language?

People resort to violence in language for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Shortcut to their ends.
  • A psychological need to dominate others.
  • A practical need to assault and harm others, such as a political campaign or high-stakes business competition.
  • Fun — some people actually enjoy it.
  • Thrill of battle — some people get off on the visceral feeling they get, as if they were actually engaging in physical force or violence.
  • Ego and status — some people respect people who can dominate others.

Shortcut

A lot of the motivation for resorting to violence in language seems to be as a shortcut to an end, compelling compliance or action, without the need for a more lengthy process based on facts, merit, and reason.

Words emphasizing violence and force

  1. Aggressive, aggressively
  2. Anger, angry
  3. Argue, argument
  4. Arm, armed, arms
  5. Arms race
  6. Arrow
  7. Assault
  8. Attack
  9. Bang
  10. Battle, battles
  11. Beat, beating, beat up
  12. Bellicose
  13. Belligerent
  14. Belt
  15. Berate
  16. Blast
  17. Block, blocking
  18. Blood — Draw blood
  19. Blood money
  20. Bloodbath
  21. Bloody
  22. Blow, blow up, blown away
  23. Bludgeon
  24. Bomb
  25. Boom
  26. Break
  27. Bruise
  28. Brutal
  29. Bully
  30. Burn
  31. Burst
  32. Bust
  33. Castrate
  34. Chain, chained
  35. Chase
  36. Choke, choke off
  37. Clash
  38. Clobber
  39. Coerce
  40. Combat
  41. Combative
  42. Confront, confrontation
  43. Conquer
  44. Coup
  45. Cripple
  46. Crush
  47. Cuff
  48. Cut
  49. Cutthroat
  50. Dead, death
  51. Deathmatch
  52. Decimate
  53. Demolish
  54. Destroy
  55. Detonate
  56. Devastate
  57. Dominate
  58. Draw blood
  59. Drive
  60. Drive down
  61. Drive out
  62. Drown
  63. Explode
  64. Explosive
  65. Eviscerate
  66. Feel the heat
  67. Ferocious
  68. Fierce
  69. Fight, fighting words
  70. Fire
  71. Firing shots
  72. Fisticuffs
  73. Force
  74. Forceful
  75. Fuck, fucked
  76. Get in their face
  77. Gun, guns, holding a gun to our head, holding a gun to their head, holding a gun to your head
  78. Gut (verb)
  79. Gut punch
  80. Hand-to-hand combat
  81. Harass
  82. Havoc
  83. Hit
  84. Hit back
  85. Hurt
  86. Impale
  87. Implode
  88. Incite, incitement
  89. Intimidate
  90. Jab
  91. Joust, jousting
  92. Jump
  93. Kick
  94. Kill
  95. Knock
  96. Lash
  97. Lash out
  98. Leap
  99. Lose
  100. Medieval
  101. Melee
  102. Militant
  103. Murder
  104. Outrage
  105. Pain
  106. Pillage
  107. Pointing a gun
  108. Pounce
  109. Pressure
  110. Prevail
  111. Prisoners, take no prisoners
  112. Provoke, provocation
  113. Pugnacious
  114. Pull
  115. Pull no punches
  116. Push
  117. Punch
  118. Punch back
  119. Rage
  120. Rape
  121. Ravage
  122. Ream
  123. Rebel
  124. Revolt
  125. Revolution
  126. Riot
  127. Rip
  128. Ruin
  129. Running scared
  130. Sack
  131. Savage
  132. Scalp
  133. Scar
  134. Scare
  135. Scourge
  136. Scrape
  137. Scream
  138. Scuffle
  139. Seethe
  140. Seize
  141. Shackle, shackled
  142. Shake up
  143. Shield
  144. Shoot, shoot down, shot, shot down
  145. Shout
  146. Shove
  147. Siege
  148. Skirmish
  149. Slam
  150. Slaughter
  151. Slap
  152. Slay
  153. Sling
  154. Smack
  155. Smother
  156. Snuff out
  157. Squash
  158. Squeeze
  159. Squish
  160. Stab
  161. Stand over
  162. Stomp
  163. Strangle
  164. Strike
  165. Strike a blow, strikes a blow, struck a blow
  166. Struggle
  167. Sudden death
  168. Suicide
  169. Tackle
  170. Take a shot
  171. Thrash
  172. Threaten
  173. Throe, throes
  174. Throw
  175. Throw a bomb, throwing a bomb
  176. Throwing someone under the bus
  177. Ticking time bomb
  178. Torture
  179. Toss
  180. Trip, trip up
  181. Truculent
  182. Twist
  183. Uprising, rise up
  184. Vicious
  185. Violate
  186. Violence, violent, violently — other than to reference actual physical violence (e.g., “I’m violently opposed”, “in violent opposition”, “do violence to” for words or concepts but not people or property or natural objects)
  187. War, warpath
  188. Weapon, weaponize
  189. Whack
  190. When push comes to shove
  191. Whip
  192. Win
  193. Wrestle
  194. War
  195. Warpath
  196. Weapon
  197. Weaponizing
  198. Wreak, wreak havoc
  199. Yank

Coarse language

There is also the related general issue of cursing, cussing, profanity, and otherwise coarse language, which has much the same effect, to appeal to an emotional response rather than rely on facts, merit, and reason..

Violent or forceful intent of language

  1. Provocation
  2. Incitement
  3. Scare
  4. Demean
  5. Belittle
  6. Coercion
  7. Embarrassment
  8. Intimidation
  9. Sexual violence or violation
  10. Belligerent
  11. Bellicose
  12. Mean, mean-spirited
  13. Nasty
  14. Hostile, hostility

There is also explicit language vs. implied intent.

Tone of voice

There is also the issue of tone of voice. Tone can make the language of force and violence even more compelling.

Even if the explicit words do not convey a sense of force or violence, the tone used to express those words may indeed convey a sense of force or violence, the latter being as inappropriate as explicitly violent or forceful language.

Posture and gestures

Posture can also send a message of force and violence the same as tone, such as:

  1. Hands balled up into fists.
  2. A sharp, stabbing motion with a pointed finger.
  3. Rapid, forceful arm movements directly at a person.
  4. Invading the personal space of the other party.

Inflammatory language

Although not explicitly violent or forceful, inflammatory language can be just as harmful, such as referring to someone or a group as:

  1. Childish
  2. Crazy
  3. Idiot
  4. Ignorant
  5. Insane
  6. Mentally ill
  7. Retarded
  8. Sick
  9. Stupid

And language which tends to express:

  1. Bias
  2. Disparagement in general
  3. Prejudice

Hate language

Beyond general disparagement, hate language is inflammatory language directed at individuals or groups based on religion, race, ethnicity, nationality, language, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual preference, appearance.

Provocation and incitement

Violent and forceful language can be harmful, but language that verges on provocation or incitement is clearly intended to goad the other side into an ill-considered response, which itself may consist of either equally forceful and violent language if not actual force and violence.

Taunting and fighting words are forms of provocation and incitement.

I would define provocation as containing or pertaining to an intent to elicit a strong, emotional response, whether in words, actions, or even merely feelings.

Fighting words

Fighting words are indeed incitement, but at a much more personal level. They amount to a challenge that the opponent almost literally has no choice to ignore.

Taunting

Taunting may be more mild than outright fighting words, but they are still a harmful form of incitement, goading the other side into action, or even if action is not likely, to undermine the other side’s sense of self-worth.

Bullying

A form of taunting, bullying is intended to significantly undermine an individual’s sense of self-worth, possibly leading to suicide.

Nonviolent language

There are plenty of words available for asserting strong feelings without the need to resort to the language of violence and intimidation, just as:

  1. Win
  2. Compete
  3. Challenge
  4. Appeal
  5. Encourage
  6. Cooperate
  7. Collaborate
  8. Persuade
  9. Discuss

Expressing feelings

There is the issue of how to properly express feelings when they may in fact involve a level of intensity that borders on the language of violence. Generally, the energy and content of feelings should be separated, with the energy channeled in some positive manner and the content of feelings expressed in a more calm tone of voice.

Future: Automated tool to highlight use of violence in language

It would be nice to have an online automated tool to highlight passages of text in a document where violent language is used.

It would be nice to have such a tool embedded and integrated with common online text editors, such as Google Docs.

Future: Suggest alternatives to violence in language

It would be nice to have suggested alternative language for instances of the use of each violent word.

And it would be even nicer to have an automated tool which could convert violent language to more benign language.

And it would be nice to have this feature embedded and integrated with common online text editors, such as Google Docs.

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