Positive and Negative Evaluations

Positive and negative evaluations can be subtle. Consider a word like “clever.” It presents a positive evaluation in terms of quick mental ability. In contrast, “cunning” often presents a negative evaluation of someone for misusing mental abilities. It thus makes a difference which one of these words we choose. It also makes a difference where we apply them. When something is supposed to be profound and serious, it is insulting to call it merely clever. Prayers, for example, should not be clever.

Sometimes seemingly innocuous words can shift evaluative force. The word “too” is the perfect example of this. This word introduces a negative evaluation, sometimes turning a positive quality into a negative one. Com- pare the following sentences:

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John is smart. John is too smart.

John is honest. John is too honest.

John is ambitious. John is too ambitious.

John is nice. John is too nice.

John is friendly. John is too friendly.