The ‘gay’ marriage debate

The British Conservative party has got itself in a right old state about the idea of legalising gay marriage. I won’t get into that here (though you can guess what a muesli-eating, Guardian-reading liberal like me might think). But it did give me the idea for a brilliant Breakfast Experiment™ (copyright the always great Language Log).

We’ve often noted in our workshops that the more uncomfortable someone is with a subject, the more likely they are to use formal language to talk or write about it. So your HR department won’t say in a disciplinary letter, ‘we might sack you’; they’ll say ‘you may be liable for dismissal’. It is – we hypothesise – a distancing tactic.

So I’ve been listening to different politicians discussing gay marriage. And my hunch is that if you’re pro, you’re much more likely to use the words ‘gay’ and ‘straight’. The antis seem more prone to using ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’. But hey, it’s a busy week, and I don’t have time to do lots of listening to collect the data. Anyone got a spare day?

If I’m right though, it’d be an interesting little ‘tell’. If you think a politician’s toeing the party line, but not telling the whole truth about their real opinion, have a listen for which words they pick.

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