Red Flag Words: A List

Ages ago, it occured to me that some words are just red flags for ridiculous arguments. Not exactly groundbreaking, I know. Yet it was surprising that there’s quite a lot of them. In my biased experience, when someone uses one of these words in an argument, this is usually an indication that they’re saying something cringeworthy.

Of course I don’t mean that I don’t accept any of these as concepts (there are some that I don’t but most I do, in a limited sense). It just means that I’ve found that something like 90% of the time, the person who uses these terms unironically is also about to stick their foot in their mouth. It’s prejudicial, sure (it is after all a heuristic), and it’s guilt by association (since a lot of language use depends on the social groups you belong to) but I think that’s what makes it useful.

It would be interesting to write a little app that analyses a webpage or email for these words to calculate a red flag status. Thanks to these resources that helped me compile the list.

You might disagree about some specifics. You would of course be wrong(!) but that’s life. For some, I am sad that they have been ruined by so much misuse, yet there they are. There must be plenty I missed so, please add your own. Is there any word or phrase whose unironic use sets off a huge red flag for you and serves as a good predictor of silliness?

  • account for
  • ad hominem (almost always applied incorrectly and ironically as an example of an ad hominem itself, read more here)
  • allopathy/allopathic
  • arrogant (when applied to someone for thinking they’re right and providing arguments for this)
  • attention whore
  • balance [ADDED]
  • being (as an abstract noun eg. the ground of all being)
  • Big Pharma
  • both sides (as in, “both sides are just as bad”)
  • chemicals
  • common sense
  • cure for cancer
  • Darwinism
  • detox
  • dis ease [ADDED]
  • dogmatic (when applied to atheism/skepticism/feminism/science/materialism etc)
  • drama (as in, “I don’t do drama”, on which see the relevant paragraph in this post)
  • energy (unless there’s an equation)
  • evolved (as a compliment)
  • faith
  • feminazi (the word that inspired this whole list, in case you were wondering!)
  • free market
  • fundamentalist (when applied to atheism/skepticism/feminism/science/materialism etc)
  • harmony
  • healing
  • holistic
  • homosexual (as a noun)
  • hysterical
  • illusion (when referring to something like love)
  • Inquisition (unless you’re a historian)
  • intuition
  • intuitive (ESPECIALLY as a noun)
  • lived experience
  • macroevolution
  • materialism/materialist (when referring to culture/consumerism)
  • Meaning
  • meaning (when used as a stand-alone noun [as opposed to the meaning of something])
  • mere [ADDED]
  • microevolution
  • militant (when applied to anyone not actually holding an automatic weapon)
  • misandry
  • missing link
  • more evolved
  • Mystery (or lower-case uses that are similar in connotation to the capital-M use)
  • nanny state
  • natural
  • nihilism
  • nothing more than [ADDED]
  • nuance/nuanced (alas)
  • official story
  • paradigm (outside of actual science or philosophy of science)
  • people of faith
  • politically correct
  • politically incorrect
  • presupposition
  • priesthood (when referring to someone who’s not a member of an organised religion)
  • rabid
  • radfem/radical feminist (see socialist)
  • religion (when talking about something other than Jainism, Islam, Shinto, Christianity etc)
  • scientism
  • sheeple
  • show trials (unless talking about Stalin)
  • shrill
  • slut
  • socialist (since most uses at the moment don’t seem to know what this actually means)
  • spiritual
  • strident
  • Taliban (unless talking about Afghanistan or Pakistan)
  • toxins
  • unconditional love
  • vibrations [ADDED]
  • ways of knowing
  • Western (except when talking about western countries as a shortcut for wealthy industrialised countries — which I don’t agree with either but that context is not a red flag to me)
  • whore
  • wisdom (sad that a perfectly fine concept is on this list but I’ve found it’s a good predictor of nonsense)
  • worldview
  • worship (when referring to something other than an organised religion)
  • virgin/virginity (except when reporting on the views of others)

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The thinly-veiled identity of lives and rants in Sydney. Views not his own, provided by hivemind. All my original work on this blog is licensed under a CC BY-NC License. Click here for the privacy policy

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