[Ads-l] "threat" vs. "warning"

Margaret Winters mewinters at WAYNE.EDU
Wed Mar 22 11:08:31 EDT 2017

I would add that a threat is always bad while a warning may be well-intentioned.

Former Provost
Professor Emerita - French and Linguistics
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI  48202

mewinters at wayne.edu

From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
Sent: Wednesday, March 22, 2017 10:44 AM
Subject: Re: "threat" vs. "warning"

While threats and warnings both involve future acts that the speaker believes will be harmful to the recipient, a threat involves the presupposition that the speaker will be the agent of the act in question. I can warn you that if you touch the stove you’ll be burned, but if I threaten you that if you touch the stove you’ll be burned I’m indicating that I will be the one responsible for burning you.  So for Trump to threaten the House Republicans is to suggest that he (or those under his direct control) will make their lives miserable, not (just) that the voters will.

What makes this trickier is that “warn” can be a performative verb (“I (hereby) warn you not to do that…”, “I warn you that if you do that…") while “threat” cannot (*I hereby threaten you not to do that…, *I threaten you that if you do that…), so threats are often issues via the verb “warn” (although sometimes with the verb “promise”).


> On Mar 22, 2017, at 10:26 AM, James A. Landau <JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM> wrote:
> from Netscape News
> http://isp.netscape.com/news/story.jsp?idq=/ff/story/0002/20170322/KBN16T07D_5.htm
> <quote>
> Trump himself warned House Republicans in a meeting on Tuesday that their seats will be at risk next year if they do not support his healthcare bill, which would modify but not eliminate Obamacare, formally known as the Affordable Care Act, Democratic former President Barack Obama's signature healthcare legislation passed in 2010.
> “He warned us that there are consequences if we don’t come together for us as a party and also for individuals,” Representative Richard Hudson of North Carolina said after the meeting. “He wasn’t threatening in any way. He was just giving us a pretty clear warning.”
> </quote>
> I for one cannot see the difference between "threatening" and "giving a warning".  All I can figure out is that Representative Hudson was being euphemistic.
> from the same article, a political term I am not familiar with: "keying"
> <quote>
> ...the Club for Growth, the Heritage Foundation's political arm, and Americans for Prosperity <snip> are “keying” the vote, which means it will be a factor in determining whether the groups deem a lawmaker to be sufficiently conservative. </quote>
> - Jim Landau
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