Loaded Language

There's a fine line between colorful description and loaded language (or images, please visit the fascinating blog sociological images for examples).

Linguistic examples abound as well. Old friend Charles Ward begins a review of a recent concert (don't click that yet!) with a loaded title. I'm going to omit the name of the violinist for point-making reasons. The title:

"Violinist ________ Seduces and Sizzles"

Let's play a game. Given the language, would you say that the violinist in question is Itzhak Perlman:

or Midori?

Yeeeeah. The sexism inherent in his title is compounded by the first sentence.

When an audience sighs happily after hearing tough music, an artist has conquered.

Yikes. Sexual imagery much?

In fairness, the balance of the article is well-written. But the lead-in, deliberately or not, sexualizes Midori merely because she is female. I can't think of a review which does the same to a male artist.

Language, people.


Miss Mussel said...

While I do agree with your point regarding the sexualization of female artists, I must point out that writer rarely, if ever, get to choose the title of the article.

The sub usually tries to choose something related to the article's content but often they exaggerate a point of view to grab the reader's attention.

While this pratice may not be a strict representation of the facts in the article, a good headline increases the chances our work will be read. As such it is a necessary evil.

More on letching critics here

Sator Arepo said...


Your point is taken, the author may not have titled the piece. And suggestive titles do grab attention. But I still find it disturbing.

Empiricus said...

Yikes MM! I'll just stay out of that one.

I do think Sator's on to something in this review, but I must say it's pretty subtle compared to Morrison.

That said, Ward doesn't deserve all of the snark. He's gonna have to share it equally with his dopey "sub."

Empiricus said...

Oh! By the way MM, why don't you get to choose your own titles? Is this the prevalent practice? It would seem to me that the writers would have better ideas for better titles. Maybe it's just me, but...

AnthonyS said...

Nice find SA.

The larger issue is how classical music muckety-mucks objectify many female artists to sell tickets/recordings/etc. This kind of writing is probably a reflection of that practice. The problem is, of course, the fact that it does sell the goods (like any other goods in the marketplace).

As much as classical music (from a leadership / marketing standpoint) tries to play up its idea of elite cultural cache, using sex appeal to move their artistic widgets seems... hypocritical?

missmarple said...

Re: writers not choosing the titles

As far as I know, writers don't get to choose titles for their articles because the length of the title is determined by the layout of the entire newspaper page (the 'shape' of an article varies, so one time the title can be only fifteen symbols long, another time it could be forty, for example). And the layout is only decided in the final phases of the making of a newspaper, long after the writer has submitted their article to the newspaper.

Please excuse my clumsy English, I hope I managed to get my point across anyway :)

Gustav said...

Ugh. Strauss's Sonata in Eb, Op. 18 is decidedly not sexy.

Empiricus said...

Thanks MM. Every bit of information helps us do our thing better.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Who chooses titles and headers depends on the publication. For my New Music Box article, I wrote the heads - they were essentially my outline and structured the piece - and Molly Sheridan came up with the title. For SFCV, my editor writes both, but I think if I sent in my reviews with headers and a suggested title, he would more than likely accept them.

Anonymous said...

A lot of nothing. To "sexualize" is to endow with a sexual character. Last time I checked the sexes, being sexual, and sex are all perfectly fine. That is unless you have a problem with "sizzles" and "seduces."

Honestly, I would have thought the title referred to Perlman as his playing, in my opinion, is far more voluptuous than Midori's. Or wait, is “voluptuous” a bad word too?

Lisa Hirsch said...

A lot of something: about 95% of this language is directed at female performers, regardless of whether you personally find Perelman or Midori hotter.

Anonymous said...

‘Beside him all pianists dwindle – with the exception of one, Chopin, the Raphael of the piano. Indeed, with the exception of this one, all other pianists whom we heard this year at innumerable concerts are just mere pianists – they shine by the dexterity with which they handle the stringed wood. With Liszt, on the other hand, one thinks no longer of difficulties overcome; the piano disappears, and music reveals itself. In this respect Liszt has, since we heard him last, made the most wonderful progress. With this superiority he combines a repose which we formerly missed in him. When, for instance, he then played a thunderstorm on the piano, we saw the lightening flash over his face, his limbs shaken by the storm, and his long locks of hair dripping, as it were, from the heavy shower represented. But when he plays now even the most violent thunderstorm he rises above it, like the traveller who stands on the top of a mountain, whilst the storm rages below; the clouds lie deep below him, the lightening winds like serpents at his feet, and, smiling, he lifts up his head into the pure ether.’
April 4, 1841
Heine on Franz Liszt

How do you "handle" your "stringed-wood?"

Anonymous said...

Lisa, a small points:
I wrote Perlman's playing is hotter. And how about a new game?
Guess the personal pronouns in the review:
1. [He/she] has at [his/her] command a touch vibrantly sensual, even seductive.
2. In [his/her] hands, it is tender, beautiful, and supple.

…perhaps the SA and the big E can give this a go.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I'm not playing. The specific examples interest me less than the aggregate. My 95% is an exaggeration - 80% is probably more correct.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'll agree with your figure of 80% (because 62% of statistics quoted in 33% of blogs are accurate 29% of the time in 40.1% of the Western World). A couple of points though:

1.) I don't see this language as problematic. “Sensual” and “seductive” are used to describe males’ performances- those traits, among others, I hope all musicians would strive for. The less emotions you're aware of the less you have to share with the audience.
2.) If somehow this language is sexualized language and is also degrading then why when I search the web for, say "seductive pianist", do I pull up a number of female musicians' web pages that use quotes of this nature on their main pages to portray themselves? Are they participating unwittingly in there own self-degradation?
3.) Perhaps so as I can think of a number of concerts I've attended where the female on stage was dressed more appropriately for MTV's Grind on the Beach rather than a concert hall. Should we have a dress code? Or,
4.) Maybe we could have concerts in the dark. (I shut my eyes during many concerts- sometimes to listen and sometimes to sleep.) But try getting that past hall managers. Fact is most people see MUCH better than they hear- hence all the imagery in the Heine review and the need for binoculars at the symphony!

Hey, in the end if it sells a Schubert or a Schönberg CD who cares? Oh wait. Sorry, that's been answered.

Sator Arepo said...

This is all fascinating. It has raised exactly the issues at which I was aiming.

What is the limit/difference between promoting one's self sexually versus being sexualized by someone else?

And, anon, this is not only applicable to women, but, yes, mostly it is. Some may choose to use sex to sell. Some do not. To whom shall we subject our social norms?

Whose choice? I am not claiming all are victims, but I think I agree with Lisa H. on most points.