The Lexicon of the Referendum

  • Jonathan Charteris-BlackEmail author


If language influences thought, then the actual vocabulary, or lexicon, of the referendum campaign surely influenced how people voted. In this chapter I discuss this lexicon from three different perspectives. First I consider the word coinages that were developed during the UK Referendum campaign and illustrate how new words or ‘neologisms’ often have concealed and unconscious meanings that influence how we think as well as our moral judgements. The three word formation processes that I explore are portamanteau words such as ‘Brexit’, derivations such as ‘Brexiteer’ and ‘Remoaner’, and compound words such as ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Breaking point’—illustrating the emotional force of these words. I then evaluate how the wording of the ballot paper might have affected the outcome of the referendum by inadvertently triggering moral intuitions. In particular I explore the insights offered by corpus linguistics in the choice of words such as ‘Remain’ (rather than ‘stay’) and ‘Leave’ on the ballot paper. The methodology employed by the Electoral Commission did not explore the issue of cognitive and unconscious associations of mental state verbs that I illustrate in this chapter. These clearly indicate that ‘remain’ is more negative and more abstract than ‘stay’ and ‘leave’ because it typically refers to mental states rather than material events. The methodology of the Electoral Commission might have benefited from identifying the unconscious word associations that I illustrate in this section. In the third section I compare the ‘foundations’ for moral judgements identified by Haidt with the dominant frames that are identified by metaphor analysis in the following chapters. I explain the difference between moral intuition and moral reasoning and illustrate how moral reasoning can be analysed in enthymemes and syllogisms. Many people described voting with their ‘heart’ rather than their ‘head’—and some probably regretted that thereafter. Frames and scenarios arise from moral reasoning, while allegories rely on more intuitive forms of moral appraisal.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Arts, Creative Industries and EducationUniversity of the West of EnglandBristolUK

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