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I know, this is too easy and the question might be too conversational. Still, it fascinates me, particularly since the concept was very insightful and prescient.

I think it was Heinlein, in one of the Lazarus Long books. They had a word that described the "power" or "emotional impact" of a word. A rating system, that was used to alter the impact or emotional response of a story. As I recall, the concept was that word selection was as important as content, and could dramatically altered the perception of a story.

One reason I ask is that there is a story on slashdot.org today, "Data Mining Reveals How Wording Influences Tweet Propagation", which sounds like a real life, real world incarnation of that concept.

Can anyone remember what the word was, the one describing the word rating system?

Thanks in Advance

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Further insight: xkcd.com/853 –  hexparrot May 15 at 22:07

2 Answers 2

It is indeed Heinlein, from 'If This Goes On'.
TL&DR version -- the term they use is: "connotational indices"


Long Version:

It's from when Johnny and Zeb are discussing the upcoming plans:

'Do you seriously expect to start a rebellion with picayune stuff like that?'

'It's not picayune stuff, because it acts directly on their emotions, below the logical level. You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic. It doesn't have to be a prejudice about an important matter either. Johnnie, you savvy how to use connotation indices, don't you?'

'Well, yes and no. I know what they are; they are supposed to measure the emotional effects of words.'

'That's true, as far as it goes. But the index of a word isn't fixed like the twelve inches in a foot; it is a complex variable function depending on context, age and sex and occupation of the listener, the locale and a dozen other things. An index is a particular solution of the variable that tells you whether a particular word is used in a particular fashion to a particular reader or type of reader will affect that person favorably, unfavorably, or simply leave him cold. Given proper measurements of the group addressed it can be as mathematically exact as any branch of engineering. We never have all the data we need so it remains an art-but a very precise art, especially as we employ "feedback" through field sampling. Each article I do is a little more annoying than the last-and the reader never knows why.'

Zeb gives a basic example:

'I'll give you a gross case. Which would you rather have? A nice, thick, juicy, tender steak-or a segment of muscle tissue from the corpse of an immature castrated bull?'

Johnny then indicates that he could see how it would work on others, but not him. Zeb, of course, rises to the bait:

Now I should know better than to drop my guard with Zeb. The good Lord knows he's tripped me up enough times. He smiled at me quietly and made a short statement involving some of those taboo words.

'You leave my mother out of this!'

Zeb then calms Johnny down, and explains:

He did so and we sat down again. I was still sore and not at all inclined to forget Zeb's unpardonable breach of good manners, but the crisis was past. But he spoke quietly, 'Johnnie, believe me, I was not insulting you nor any member of your family. That was a scientific demonstration of the dynamics of connotational indices, and that is all it was.'

'Well-you didn't have to make it so personal.'

'Ah, but I did have to. We were speaking of the psychodynamics of emotion, and emotions are personal, subjective things which must be experienced to be understood. You were of the belief that you, as an educated man, were immune to this form of attack-so I ran a lab test to show you that no one is immune. Now just what did I say to you?'

'You said-Never mind. Okay, so it was a test. But I don't care to repeat it. You've made your point: I don't like it.'

'But what did I say? All I said, in fact, was that you were the legitimate offspring of a legal marriage. Right? What is insulting about that?'

'But'-I stopped and ran over in my mind the infuriating, insulting, and degrading things he had said-and, do you know, that is absolutely all they added up to. I grinned sheepishly. 'It was the way you said it.'

'Exactly, exactly! To put it technically, I selected terms with high negative indices, for this situation and for this listener.'

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Outstanding response. Thank you very much indeed. –  Just4Fun May 15 at 15:57
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@Just4Fun: :) Don't forget to accept his answer. –  Sean Duggan May 15 at 15:59
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Does the story ever actually say what Zeb actually said? I'm not imaginative enough to negate that statement into something insulting. –  Bobson May 15 at 17:28
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@Bobson -- Nope; it's never clearly stated. We can make some assumptions, but we don't know what he actually said. For example, 'Legitimate offspring of a legal marriage' could be said with 'Your dad is a mtherfck*r', and been quite accurate. Given that Johnny responded with 'You leave my mother out of this', it's unlikely that's what he said, but something similar is probable. Heinlein is well aware, however, of the power of leaving details to the imagination :) –  KHW May 15 at 17:58
    
@KHW - Somehow, I'm not surprised. That's a good example, even if it's not a perfect match. –  Bobson May 15 at 18:00

It should be noted that Heinlein was simply putting well-established scientific principle into a story-line form. That's what successful sci-fi authors do. This particular item is derived from Alfred Korzybski's 'Science and Sanity: An Introduction to Non-Aristotelian Systems and General Semantics' (1933). The General Semantics (GS) element being discussed is the "semantic reaction".

Heinlein isn't the only sci-fi author to bring GS into stories. Maybe the best known example is A.E. van Vogt's 'The World of Null-A'. (Or perhaps the "best known" would actually be L. Ron Hubbard's 'Dianetics', but there's some strong disagreement whether that should be considered "sci-fi" or not and followers dispute the roots even though Hubbard gives credit in the book. In 'Dianetics, the "semantic reaction" is essentially known as an 'engram' affecting the 'reactive mind'.) Less well-known as an example is Frank Herbert's 'Dune', though it's hardly less well-known in itself.

While GS is somewhat known and partially grasped by sci-fi readers due to Heinlein, van Vogt, et al., the actual contributions in science are usually far less appreciated. The more modern successes of psychotherapy in cognitive (behavior) therapy, neuro-linguistic programming and similar branches are well rooted in GS. Much of modern communication theory can be traced to GS. And even basic elements of algorithmic and computational theories that make this site possible can be found in GS.

The words of Heinlein are indeed insightful and prescient. For good reason.

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Although very good information, this doesn't actually answer the question, which was to identify the SciFi story that had a term for quantified 'Word emotional value.' This answer is History on where it came from, not where it was used. Although it's excellent information, it does not answer the question, and really should be a comment. (Anything starting with 'It should also be noted' usually falls into this category.) –  KHW Jun 2 at 14:46
    
Probably true, and I don't disagree. But it wasn't "where did it come from" in terms of what story it was in. The question was about identifying what the concept was called, and that does lead to "connotational indices". But that's just the character's (i.e., the writer's) made-up term and doesn't really lead anywhere useful, especially if further searching is desired that explains why it's so insightful and prescient. (Try a Google search.) Going to the underlying science with "semantic reaction" might help. (Compare a second search.) It can't hurt to know some real background. –  user2338816 Jun 3 at 1:33
    
To the contrary; 'where did it come from' in terms of what story it was in is exactly what the question was. Again, I don't question the validity of the information, but it doesn't answers the question -- it answers a question that might be an extension of the question, but was not asked. Hence my suggestion that it be a comment; it doesn't actually answer the asked question, but is nevertheless good information. –  KHW Jun 3 at 1:41
    
To the contrary, the question was exactly Can anyone remember what the word was, the one describing the word rating system? That's why the direct, first-level (and deserved to be accepted/up-voted) answer is TL&DR version -- the term they use is: "connotational indices". Only the OP can judge whether or not it's meaningful to have an actual term for which "connotational indices" is a fictional somewhat synonym. –  user2338816 Jun 3 at 2:00
    
To the contrary; 'Not an answer' is not a judgement made by the OP; the OP can Up/Downvote and accept (and possibly award a bounty.) The Mods and 'Trusted Users' of various levels evaluate 'Not a Question Flags'. The OPs question was what was the word IN THE STORY, not what external concept was it based on. Regardless; I have no desire to continue the argument. Based on quite a bit of experience, I've provided the feedback that it would be a better fit as a comment, but YMMV. –  KHW Jun 3 at 2:47

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