Name-Calling as a Logical Fallacy

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Young couple arguing in street
SKA / Getty Images

Name-calling is a fallacy that uses emotionally loaded terms to influence an audience. Also called verbal abuse.

Name-calling, says J. Vernon Jensen, is "attaching to a person, group, institution, or concept a label with a heavily derogatory connotation. It usually is an incomplete, unfair, and misleading characterization" (Ethical Issues in the Communication Process, 1997).

Examples of Name-Calling as a Fallacy

  • "In politics, association is often accomplished by name-calling--linking a person or idea to a negative symbol. The persuader hopes that the receiver will reject the person or idea on the basis of the negative symbol, rather than by examining the evidence. For example, those who oppose budget cuts may refer to fiscally conservative politicians as 'stingy,' thus creating a negative association, although the same person could equally be referred to as 'thrifty' by supporters. Similarly, candidates have a list of negative words and phrases that they use when speaking about their opponents. Some of these are betray, coercion, collapse, corruption, crisis, decay, destroy, endanger, failure, greed, hypocrisy, incompetent, insecure, liberal, permissive attitude, shallow, sick, traitors, and unionized."
    (Herbert W. Simons, Persuasion in Society. Sage, 2001)
  • "'Un-American' is a favorite name-calling device to stain the reputation of someone who disagrees with official policies and positions. It conjures up old red-baiting techniques that stifle free speech and dissent on public issues. It creates a chilling effect on people to stop testing the waters of our democratic right to question the motives of our government."
    (Nancy Snow, Information War: American Propaganda, Free Speech and Opinion Control Since 9-11. Seven Stories, 2003)
  • "During the Senate confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment. Thomas denied the accusation. . . .
    "During the hearings Hill, a graduate of Yale Law School and a tenured professor of law at Oklahoma State University, was labeled 'a fantasizer,' 'a spurned woman,' 'an incompetent professional,' and 'a perjurer.'"
    (Jon Stratton, Critical Thinking for College Students. Rowman & Littlefield, 1999)

The Default Epithet

  • "It has become the default epithet from both the Right and the Left, said Michael Gerson. If you don't like the tactics of your opponents, simply compare them to the Nazis. In recent days, Democrats have accused town-hall demonstrators of practicing 'Brownshirt tactics,' while Republicans have charged that President Obama's agenda would turn America into 1930s Germany. Michael Moore once compared the USA Patriot Act to Mein Kampf, and Rush Limbaugh likes to compare Obama to Hitler. 'This rhetorical strategy is intended to convey intensity of conviction.' But in truth, it's just 'a lazy shortcut to secure an emotional response,' designed to cut off legitimate debate. After all, 'what discourse is possible with the spawn of Hitler?' Nazism, if any reminder is needed, 'is not a useful symbol for everything that makes us angry.' It is, rather, 'a historical movement unique in the ambitions of its cruelty,' and resulted in the meticulous wholesale slaughter of millions of Jews. 'The history of those times should be approached with fear and trembling, not mocked with metaphor.'"
    ("Trivializing the Evils of Nazism." The Week, Aug. 28-Sep. 4, 2009. Based on Michael Gerson's article "At the Town Halls, Trivializing Evil" in The Washington Post, August 14, 2009)

Anticipatory Name Calling

  • "Sometimes there is an implied threat that if you make an unpopular decision or arrive at a conclusion that isn't favored, a negative label will be applied to you. For instance, someone might say, 'Only a naive moron would believe that' to influence your attitude on an issue. This strategy of anticipatory name calling makes it difficult for you to declare that you favor the negatively valued belief because it means that you make yourself look like a 'naive moron.' Anticipatory name-calling can also invoke positive group memberships, such as asserting that 'all true Americans will agree . . .' or 'people in the know think that . . ..' Anticipatory name calling is a shrewd tactic that can be effective in shaping people's thinking."
    (Wayne Weiten, Psychology: Themes and Variations, 9th ed. Wadsworth, 2013)

Forgotten Insults

  • "Old dictionaries (and roach motels like the Oxford English Dictionary) provide fascinating examples of now forgotten insults. Let me give you a taste of how you could insult someone in the 1700s. You might call them a saucy coxcomb, a ninny lobcock, a lickorous glutton, a mangy rascal, a shite-a-bed scoundrel, a drunken royster, a lubberly lout, a drawlatch hoyden, a flouting milksop, a scury sneaksby (or druggle-headed sneaksby), a fondling fop, a base loon, an idle lusk, a scoffing braggart, a noddy meacock, a blockish grutnol, a doddipol-jolthead, a jobbernot goosecap, a flutch, a calf-lolly, a lob dotterel, a hoddypeak simpleton, a codshead looby, a woodcock slangam, a turdy gut, a fustylugs, a slubberdegullion druggel, or a grouthead gnat-snapper."
    (Kate Burridge, Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History. HarperCollins Australia, 2011)
  • "Picture it. One of the school mutants is chasing you around the playground with a used johnny on the end of a stick. You turn and face him:
    "'Hold fast there, thou ninnie lobcock, jobernol goosecap, grouthead gnat-snapper, ninnie-hammer flycathcatcher.'
    "Yeah, that's really gonna stop 'em."
    (Anthony McGowan, Hellbent. Simon & Schuster, 2006)

Attack Dogs

  • "'The president sends out his attack dog often,' said [Senator Henry] Reid. 'That’s also known as Dick Cheney.' . . .
    "Mr. Reid said he was not going to engage in a tit-for-tat with the vice president. 'I’m not going to get into a name-calling match with somebody who has a 9 percent approval rating,' Mr. Reid said."
    (Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny, "Bush and Cheney Chide Democrats on Iraq Deadline." The New York Times, April 25, 2007)


  • "This is an essay about a strain of nasty, knowing abuse spreading like pinkeye through the national conversation--a tone of snarking insult provoked and encouraged by the new hybrid world of print, television, radio, and the Internet. It's an essay about style and also, I suppose, grace. Anyone who speaks of grace--so spiritual a word--in connection with our raucous culture risks sounding like a genteel idiot, so I had better say right away that I'm all in favor of nasty comedy, incessant profanity, trash talk, any kind of satire, and certain kinds of invective. It's the bad kind of invective--low, teasing, snide, condescending, knowing; in brief, snark--that I hate."
    (David Denby, Snark. Simon & Schuster, 2009)

The Lighter Side of Name-Calling

  • "Do you know what week this is in our public schools? I'm not making this up: this week is National No Name-Calling Week. They don't want any name-calling in our public schools. What stupid dork came up with this idea?"
    (Jay Leno, monologue on the Tonight Show, January 24, 2005)
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Name-Calling as a Logical Fallacy." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Name-Calling as a Logical Fallacy. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Name-Calling as a Logical Fallacy." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 28, 2023).