Emergent impoliteness and persuasive emotionality in Polish media discourses

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The focus of the paper is to identify and discuss cases of what we call emergent impoliteness and persuasive emotionality based on selected types of discourse strategies in Polish media which contribute to increasingly high negative emotionality in audiences and to the radicalization of language and attitudes when addressing political opponents. The role and function of emotional discourse are particularly foregrounded to identify its persuasive role in media discourses and beyond. Examples discussed are derived from current Polish media texts. The materials are collected from the large Polish monitor media corpus monco.frazeo.pl (Pęzik 2020). The analysis is conducted in terms of quantitative corpus tools (Pęzik 2012, 2014), concerning emotive and media discourse approaches (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk and Wilson 2013, Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2015, 2017a, 2017b). The analysis includes a presentation of the ways mass media construe events (Langacker 1987/1991) in terms of their ideological framing, understood as particular imposed/constructed event models and structures (cf. Gans 1979). Special attention is paid to the negative axiological evaluation of people and events in terms of mostly implicitly persuasive and offensive discourse, including the role emotion clusters of harm, hurt and offence, anger and contempt play in the media persuasive tactics. The research outcomes provide a research basis and categorization of types of emergent impoliteness and persuasive emotionality, which involve implicit persuasion directed at negative emotionality raising with the media public, as identifiedin the analyzed media texts.

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1. Introduction

The focus of the paper is to study Polish media discourse strategies which contribute to high negative emotionality increase in audiences and, eventually, to the radicalization of language and attitudes when addressing political opponents. The main idea of the paper is that selected media texts which are the focus of our discussion, aim at persuading its readers to develop or strengthen negative attitudes towards their political opponents indirectly, not by means of indicating explicitly negative characterization of particular persons or events but rather implicitly, by insinuation, in terms of emergent rather than explicit impoliteness, expressed both on the verbal level in the media texts as well as on the relevant visual plane in the form of pictures, graphs, etc. In this way they purposefully intend to contribute to gradual raising of negative emotions in the audiences . The role and function of emotional discourse are particularly foregrounded to identify its persuasive role in media discourses and beyond. In other words, the audience’s perception of particular characters, typically some well-known personalities from social, political, or cultural circles, are represented in the contexts which – only on reflection – appear to be unfavourable and difficult to accept by the audience. The emotional arousal which is likely to accompany such news triggers either negative attitude towards the characters or else, depending on the political preferences of the audience, activate negative emotionality towards the authors of the news or towards particular media organisations at large. The persuasive emotionality signals are then a consequence of acts of emergent impoliteness addressed at particular political figures, not accepted by a segment of the society. And yet, the impoliteness acts are not always, similarly to the persuasion objectives, explicitly marked by rude, abusive, or otherwise unacceptable language in the media texts. Rather, they can be more nuanced and more importantly, outside the actual contexts, they can even be considered if not fully polite, at least minimally, neutral. The types of such emergent impoliteness will be presented in the sections to follow, starting from more explicit cases and progressing towards gradually less and less obvious cases of persuasive emotionality.

2. Research methods and materials

The research methodology applied in this study involves a qualitative analysis of the data excerpted by language corpus tools, examined with accessible instruments of concordances and their frequencies as well as relevant collocations. In some of the cases, in which new meanings relevant to our discussion of persuasive emotionality have recently emerged, our corpus results indicate diachronic trends such forms underwent from less to more marked meanings. Similarly, in some of the examples – although not in all, due to their less direct relevance – the analysis indicates the ideological framing and political underpinnings and usage preferences of a segment of Polish media consumers to be sensitive to the tacit persuasive tactics used by some media, although no systematic analysis is provided of the relationship between specific outlets (e.g. left/right supporting newspapers or TV channels/programmes) and mobilisation of specific emotions narratives.The data and materials used in the present study were derived from a broad selection of Polish news sources indexed by the Monco corpus search engine (Pęzik 2020, monco.frazeo.pl). Its Polish version (MoncoPL) currently contains over 7 billion word tokens of web-based news releases, blogs and transcripts of TV shows spanning the last decade. The textual data in the corpus is timestamped and annotated for morphosyntactic features, which makes it possible to construct corpus queries and identify examples of phrases illustrating selected impoliteness phenomena. Since the dataset indexed in MoncoPL is densely sampled at approximately 2 million words per day (Fig. 1), it is also possible to generate timeseries revealing diachronic trends in the frequency of words, phrases and lexico-grammatical structures relevant to our analysis of impoliteness.

The index of Monco currently contains over 7 billion word tokens of internet-based news releases, blogs and transcripts of TV shows spanning the last decade. The textual data in the corpus is timestamped and annotated for morphosyntactic features, which makes it possible to construct corpus queries and identify examples of phrases illustrating selected impoliteness phenomena. Since the dataset indexed in Monco is densely sampled at approximately 2 million words per day (Fig. 1), it is also possible to generate timeseries revealing diachronic trends in the frequency of words, phrases and lexico-grammatical structures relevant to our analysis of impoliteness.

Fig. 1. The rate of sentence number increase of Monco shown in the number of sentences per month, collected since 2010

This paper utilizes a number of corpus exploration methods implemented in MoncoPL including concordance analyses, metadata and timeseries aggregation as well as collocational profiles. Their application is showcased in the discussion of specific examples of persuasive emotionality covered below. As a general procedure, we start analyzing each of these cases by devising a corpus query matching morphosyntactic variants of key lexical units. Full concordances from all the sources indexed in MoncoPL[1] are obtained and inspected to identify the distribution of predominant senses and functions (see the example of dwórka below). The concordance results are also ordered and aggregated by publication date in order to identify points in time where possible semantic shifts occur. Finally, collocational profiles of such key lexical items are generated and inspected to identify newly acquired connotations and semantic prosodies as in the case of rusycystka discussed below.

3. Impoliteness

Impoliteness is behaviour that is face-aggravating in a particular context (Locher and Bousfield 2008) which comes about when the speaker communicates face-attack intentionally, or the hearer perceives and/or constructs behaviour as intentionally face-attacking, or else when a combination of intentional face attack and its perception by the hearer (audience) as such occur at the same time (Culpeper 2005a: 38, Haugh. M. & J. Culpeper 2018.). Such behaviours always have, or are presumed to have, emotional consequences for at least one participant, that is, they cause or are presumed to cause offence.

The impolite behavior in the context of media events assumes a somewhat different format. First of all, impolite behaviours are typically not fully overt in media discourses. Moreover, they are most often not addressed to the readers or audiences, but targeted at persons that are likely to be well-known to audiences, their characteristics, behaviour and activities that are meant to be framed in the media as either punishable, unacceptable physically, morally, or aesthetically distasteful. The media however use a covert strategy of observing all rules of law and good manners, and yet, on close interpretation of the information the reader identifies a particular emerging impoliteness act that tends to lurk behind the politically correct discourses and illustrations. The audience then is invited to ‘uncover’ the negativity aura around the main character of the media news and blame the main persons described in the news for their conduct and behaviours. This is certainly what happens when the reader and, more generally, the audience, are sympathetic to the political line of the particular media profile. Nevertheless, in the cases where the audience comes from an opposite political wing or party, the emotions change. In the first scenario the emotional arousal culminates in the acts of disgust, contempt, etc. towards the main persona, while in the latter – it is the media publishers and news journalists rather that are the target of not only disgust, and contempt but they also frequently happen to be ridiculed and the news they post is considered particularly strongly negatively charged and non-trustworthy.

Impoliteness then in this sense is not negative politeness. Politeness in fact is an unmarked i.e., neutral phenomenon. When considered marked, it might refer to overpoliteness, and be treated as insincerity, insincere behaviour.

What we define as impoliteness is an emotional, deeply Face Threatening Act (FTA), deliberately meant to bring about emotional consequences, in particular intentional harm, resulting in intentional hurting of the person being the target of the act.

4. Persuasive Emotion Event

4.1. Emotions

In their studies of emotions Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk and Wilson (2013, 2017, 2019) propose that the major part of an Emotion Event scenario is occupied by the canonical roles of an Emotion Experiencer and a Source, which can be interpreted as a Stimulus or Cause for the emotion to arise. The stimuli in an Emotion Event may vary. The reasons why one person gets angry and another one would not experience this emotion depend on one’s culture, situational context and the experiencer’s individual psycho-physiological predispositions. Sources can also be implemented by Agents, considered to act with volition and sentience, so they typically refer to animate beings. Stimuli can involve objects or events as inanimate (nonvoluntary) causal entities. On the basis of these variables we propose a Prototypical Emotion Event Scenario, which covers the constituents of Context with the experiencer’s biological predispositions and their social and cultural conditioning, immersed in the on-line situational context of the event. Direct stimuli act on the experiencer, which is both internally and externally manifested by means of physiological and physical symptoms accompanied by particular affective states (internally experienced emotion (cluster)), cognitive operations (conceptual embodiment, blending, metaphor) and possible experiencer’s external reaction(s) (exbodiment phase) in terms of both language (emotion language and emotional talk) as well as non-verbal body reactions.

The prototype of an impoliteness emotion event assumes a double source of a negative emotional event. The primary source is an individual/group, intentionally inflicting harm (Face Threatening Act[2], FTA in (1)) on an experiencer by means of a number of – secondary – harm sources i.e., various exbodiment ways (oral, written, graphic, etc.), which lead to emotion affective consequences. The source of harm can also be unintentional, although the consequence can be similar – the experiencer identifies offence and feels hurt.

(1) S [FTA intentional HURT] >>> A [HURT- OFFENCE]
S [non-intentional] >> A

Hurt is one of the strongest self-conscious emotions elicited in response to the perception that others have caused physical or psychological harm through a – typically intentional – act, considered wrongful (Liao et al. 2012).

Emotional impoliteness types of HURT – HARM scenarios can also be developed into stacked complex Speech Act constructions and used instrumentally to achieve particular social benefits and definite political remuneration.

4.2. Political contexts and persuasive emotionality

The first general dimension differentiating the analyzed cases is intention. In just a few of them there was no obvious intentional incivility or abuse on the part of the acting bodies. However, most of the instances discussed below possess an intentional, although covert, impolite persuasive character. They present a variety of persuasive – often manipulative – emotionality types. The content, publicized in the media, is intentionally framed as objective and legally binding on the surface. And yet, its principal objective overriding the first reading, appears to present a complex stacked structure. It is meant in fact to arouse negative emotions in the public (media readers, viewers, commentators) towards the main personae, their actions and events they are involved with and referred to in the publicised media content. More specifically, it is to strengthen or arouse the negative emotions around evaluative judgments and opinions, elicit these negative evaluative judgments and, eventually, manifest the audiences’ new or modified judgments in terms of offline devirtualization acts (Wilson and Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, in press) reflected in growing political support and parliamentary or presidential electoral decisions in the real world.

4.3. Social cognitive context

In order to account for the nature of harm and hurt as well as negative emotion raising and the sense of their persuasive effects within communities, both their social psychological underpinnings and the linguistic manifestation as discussed in LewandowskaTomaszczyk and Wilson (in press 2) need to be discussed.

The experience of harm-hurt events, as demonstrated by Vangelisti et al., (2005), is determined by direct negative appraisals within social contexts. Their specific elicitors have been proposed by Leary et al. (1998) to include active or passive interpersonal separation (rejecting and ostracizing on the one hand and social exclusion on the other).

In most of the cases discussed here, it is precisely these negative appraisals within social contexts that constitute direct causes and aims of the linguistic and visual acts that are in focus. Connected with these, are the principal media content aims to provoke in general public, readers, internet users, and audiences negative social evaluation referred to in the presented content accompanied by different degrees of emotion arousal, in particular repulsion and rejection, desire for social distance, moral disgust, anger and contempt towards the deeds of the main persona of the emotive event. The ultimate aim to defame the political figures and gain (more) political power constitutes the basic social political framing of persuasive emotionality contexts. Each of the whole CAD (contempt, anger, disgust) trio is typically elicited in response to a number of autonomy violations – autonomy and individual rights (anger), questioning the moral trustworthiness of others (moral disgust), or in cases of violations of communal rules.[3]

In the model of emergent impoliteness and persuasive emotionality we propose (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk & Pęzik 2019) that the audiences’ interpretation of a media event involves a set of cognitive and emotional leaps which lead to context re-framing in terms of its social-normative cognitive sense, synonymous to processes of semantic re-conceptualizations proposed in Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (2010). Here, objectively neutral elements acquire negative connotational value in the context of specific Event Scenarios and culminate in the form of a particular affective (emotional-evaluative) climax.

In the context of our discussion seemingly neutral elements of news messages acquire the negative connotational value in the context of specific Event Scenarios to constitute emergent impoliteness acts. They necessarily involve affective components in the main persona of the news and cause offence and hurt, overridden by an intentional act of the negative emotionality stimulation (anger, disgust, contempt) meant to re-frame the perception of political figures and events away from possible positive ones towards ideologically and politically more desired and more profitable cognitive and social-normative evaluative contexts.

5. Reconstructing political realities

The political media discourses exert influence on the dissemination of public knowledge and the addressees’ perception of reality. Of the three groups of their addressees – the personae referred to in the media content, politicians in general and the general media public, it is mostly the politicians and journalists that shape the public political discourses and play a special role in shaping a hierarchy of moral and ethical values (Czyżewski, Kowalski & Piotrowski 1997: 10–19, Piontek 2011).

Opinions concerning the outside world in the context of media discourses have always acknowledged the dialectal role of the media in its perception: primarily as projectors of the outside reality and, secondly, as its constructors. In the cases discussed in the present study the actual outside reality and its perception by the general public get either reconstructed or else get constructed anew (Kaid, Gerstlé & Sanders 1991) from bits and pieces of information that can be conjectured to profile a true image of the world.

6. Analysis of the data

The examples presented in this part of the study come from the press articles and TV programmes which, apart from the informative layer, trigger a stronger emotionality arousal with the audience, employing, often implicit, persuasive discourse strategies towards accepting a desired, often negative, perspective on a particular person or event.

An overview of distinct discursive patterns in the decreasing explicit impoliteness order is presented in the sections to follow, in which the discussed examples progress from cases of more conventional overt impoliteness towards those characterized by sets of gradually decreasing explicitness and impoliteness marking. Interestingly, the conventional impoliteness marking arouses stronger negative emotional verbal expression, as judged by the post-article comments (see 6.1. and 6.2. below) than the less explicit and/or more novel uses (6.6.). Activating less conventionally associated events in one community (see the case of pogrom in section 6.5.) on the other hand leaves more room for varying affect across cultures. All of the presented cases bring about arousing or strengthening negative evaluation towards the main personae or entity characterized in the discourse (e.g., 6.1., 6.2., 6.3., 6.4.) and/or towards the authors of such characterizations (e.g., 6.1., 6.5.).

6.1. Activation of connotative properties

On 31 January, 2003, BBC correspondent Rob Watson announces “America's Poodle” is the insult of choice hurled by critics of Tony Blair for his support for President Bush[4], Although one has to agree that the poodle metaphor is not particularly original, nevertheless it displays some of the characteristic properties of the first type of persuasive emotionality discussed in the present study and in this context was to indicate the putative passive and obedient nature of Blair’s British-US relations.

 Connotative property activation and insertion into conventional denotational content are the characteristic attributes of this type of strategy. In the Tony Blair case, this metaphorical insult can in fact be considered quite wide off the mark in most British-American contexts, but this process of (conventional) connotative properties activation appears quite massive in press discourses, not only in Britain.

6.1.1. Dwórka ‘lady-in-waiting, maidservant’

To substantiate the claim that the conventional negative connotative property activation is a massive tactic in press discourses, not only in Britain

let us refer to Polish political media context. The lexical item dwórka in Polish is not a particularly frequent word nowadays. It used to refer to a lady-in-waiting, usually of a noble family, then somewhat deteriorated to the sense of a maidservant, performing lots of basic jobs for the female part of the royalty or higher class ladies in Polish aristocratic families. Although associated with higher class in its prototypical use, Polish dwórka has always, denotationally in its basic sense, referred to a female person, who occupied a serving position at court.

In May 2021 the MoncoPL corpus contained 799 instances of different morphological variants of dwórka. The first figurative occurrence of the term usedrefers to female employees of the National Bank of Poland and was recorded in this corpus on 27th of December 2018. It was then that the “dwórki scandal” started. As reported on by most of the media the bank (male) president’s female collaborators (two – fairly attractive – young women) earned particularly high salaries and the bank president (Adam Glapinski) was not eager to reveal the sums.

A complete analysis of the term’s concordance shows that 124 of the 234 subsequent usages of dwórka are related to this new context. In other words, the figurative reference accounted for nearly 53 percent of its usage. The change in the meaning of this word is illustrated by the selected concordances of dwórka (examples 2 and 4) listed in Table 1. below, which developed from the original sense reported in examples (1) and (3) of the table.

Furthermore, to make things worse, the original title in the first newspaper using dwórki, complemented this word with the interjection sio ‘pish, hoo, sqat’, the form used to urge chickens to go away. As any dehumanizing expression, this one too – together with the ‘maidservant’ sense – make the phrase particularly insulting. When compared to the English poodle use, pudel in Polish with similar connotations, sio, dwórki! might be considered when used with the interjection, especially uncivil and also perceived as such as particularly denigrating and sexist. And although most of the audience shared the indignation about the (putative) abuse of power by the president of the National Bank of Poland, the article title was considered excessively abusive and unacceptable in most of the media comments[5]

Table 1. Concordances of Pol. dwórki ‘ladies-in-waiting, maidservants’ monco.frazeo.pl






(…) Dagmara Bąk (33), która gra dwórkę Helenę.
‘Dagmara Bąk, who plays the role of the maidservant Helena’




Od jakiegoś czasu obie panie towarzyszą Glapińskiemu podczas oficjalnych wystąpień, szybko zostały ochrzczone mianem jego aniołków lub dwórek.

‘For some time now, the two ladies have accompanied Glapinski (the bank’s president) [and they] have been fast baptized with the names of his angels or maidservants’




(…) wcielając się w role pastuszków, aniołków, dwórek i rycerzy.
‘(…) embodying [into the roles] of littel angels, maidservants and knights’




Dwórki Adama Glapińskiego.

‘Adam Glapinski’s ‘maidservants’



Although the maidservant metaphor as such might be regarded as less derogatory than that exploiting poodle as a metaphor Source Domain (Lakoff and Johnson 1980), the journalists decided to use an additional distancing marker – quotation marks – with the word dwórki – possibly to avoid direct external criticism and legal action.

The reasons why such fairly strong abuse markers have been used by the popular newspaper is clearly the case of, only partly successful, persuasive emotionality. The wide audience was certainly aroused, however not always in the direction the authors originally planned.

6.2. Invoking stereotypes

In their 2018 paper Aleksander B. Gundersen and Jonas R. Kunst discuss a stereotype concerning putative excessive unattractiveness of feminist women and frequent acts of derision addressed at them for being “unattractive or manly”[6]. The study demonstrates that these stereotypes are observed not only on the verbal level but also on the perceptual one and can also be identified in ways people visually represent feminists. The study also finds that people generally tend to associate more masculine-looks of women and men’s more feminine-looks with feminist movements and acts. Furthermore, masculine-looking women are also perceived as more dominant and threatening and less empathetic, warm and trustworthy.

1.  Such stereotypes are also in evidence in Polish media culture. The title of an online article Feministki nienawidzą mądrych, pięknych i odważnych kobiet displays the author’s perception of female feminists: ‘(Female) feminists hate clever, beautiful and brave women’. The proverbial uroda feministki – ’(female) feminist’s looks’ imposes a fairly strong perceptual association between feminist activism and particularly unappealing appearance, as epitomized in one of the posts (2) to the newspaper article mentioned above:

(2) Nienawidzą, bo są stare i brzydkie.
To są przede wszystkim kobiety i żaden GENDER tego nie zmieni.
One tak to mają.
Inaczej tego nie wytłumaczę[7]
“They hate because they are old and ugly.
They are women first of all and no GENDER will change that.
They are simply like that.
I can’t explain this any other way”.

Female feminists supposedly (2) hate clever, beautiful and brave women ‘because they (themselves) are old and ugly’.

It might be relevant to note that the meaning of the word gender (capitalized in the original post in (2)), used in this form in Polish too, has acquired an unambiguously negative semantic value when compared to the English form gender. In Polish it is used, particularly by the conservative nationalist segment of the society, as a term of abuse, a generalized anti-gender equality slur, and corresponds to the idea of a dangerous ideology which posits the unique conditioning of human sex in terms of exclusively cultural and personal preferences.

The emotion invoking persuasive act of the journalist is effective. Disgust, rejection, intolerance towards feminists reign supreme, evoked and increased by a journalist’s invocation from apartyjna i apolityczna ‘non-partisan and politically neutral’press[8].

6.3. Mixed referring terms

Similar practices, denigrating transgender people, are also observed in newspaper language where (transgender) women are referred to with male pronouns, or with both male/female within the same piece. (e.g., The Sun 2013). Such cases in the British press are discussed by Angela Zottola (2019) in her paper on non-binary uses of pronouns and titles in the British Press, but such practices are also familiar from numerous international contexts.

In the Polish context the case of first transgender MP Anna Grodzka, no longer politically active, is publicly known and incidents of addressing her with the male forms abounded during her political career. More recently, when the LGBT community rose to respond to mass-scale anti-LGBT smear-campaign led among others by militant pro-life groups and openly supported by the political establishment of the day, Margot, a transgender activist (offical ID male name Michał Sz.) met with ridicule and calls for unacceptance and ostracism. The newspaper texts stimulate such sentiments by appeal to emotion. The press titles alone are characteristic: Same fakty o Margot. Michał Sz. tylko bywa „kobietą”. Na co dzień jest mężczyzną i nawet ma dziewczynę[9] ‘Facts alone about Margot. Michał Sz. is “a woman” only occasionally. Day to day he is male and he even has a girlfriend.’

6.4. Face-saving as face-threatening

An interesting case of emergent impoliteness combined with persuasive emotionality can be observed in cases where a conventional act of face-saving is used somewhat ambiguously as a face-threatening device. Similarly to some other countries, Polish press legislation protects the privacy of persons involved in criminal investigations (accused, plaintiffs, witnesses) by requiring that they should remain unidentifiable unless they wish to be known by their full names. In special circumstances this requirement may be overruled by court. In practice, however, there are a number of seemingly paradoxical applications of this law which make it either ineffective of counter-productive.

In the following examples, the identity of the persons with criminal charges featured in the respective news reports is fully compromised by the use of an explicit periphrase, signifying the use of a longer phrasing in place of a possible shorter form of expression, which stands in apposition to the abbreviated name (3).


  • “Sławomir W., son of former president Lech Wałęsa” (Niezalezna.pl, 2017).
  • “Włodzimierz C., former owner of the Ciniewski Hotel” (Gazeta Wyborcza 1998).

This conventionally “face-saving” law strategy may become a face-threatening act even without such explicit appositions when it is applied to well-known people with some forensic criminal implications. Efficacy as a privacy protection measure may be questioned, used with reference to persons without criminal charges or convictions may be regarded as defamatory by activating appeal to the negative semantic prosody (Louw 1993, Sinclair 1994, Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 1996). The very presence of a face-saving device used to refer to a well-known person with (highly questionable) criminal charges may not only be ineffective but also incriminating. The question whether one can effectively resign from his/her right to remain anonymous needs to be answered and the use of initials has both linguistic and legal implications.

Name abbreviations (initials) which are directly compromised or blatantly ineffective (e.g. when applied to public persons) are the linguistic analogue of censor bars placed over the picture of a person whose right to remain anonymous is only superficially respected. Their emergent function can be incriminatory as one’s positive face can be threatened by simply applying this conventionally face-saving device. By implicit appeal to emotive persuasion the original discourse goal may turn equally ineffective.

An interesting example of this phenomenon in Polish news discourse is the case of Bartłomiej Misiewicz, a former government official, arrested on corruption charges in January 2019. His last name became an ephemeral eponym in government-critical public discourse.

In left-wing/ liberal press discourse a “Misiewicz” was used to refer to someone who is underqualified, incompetent, too young and inexperienced for a government job, but also smug and arrogant. The form was often used in the plural form “Misiewicze” to imply a more common tendency for the government to hire young and inept but politically loyal people for important positions in the administration. As shown in Fig. 2 below, even after Misiewicz’s name began to be anonymized, its eponymic use continued thus rendering the face-saving practice of surname abbreviation ineffective.

Fig. 2. Continued use of the name Misiewicz in the literal and eponymic sense in Polish political discourse (monco.frazeo.pl)

As shown in Table 2., the plural form of Misiewicze, which is solely used in the abovementioned eponymic sense occurs mostly in the liberal media sources indexed in the MoncoPL corpus. Nine out of ten most frequent sources of texts containing this form are clearly liberal news websites. The only conservative source contributing occurrences of this term was the weekly dorzeczy.pl in the lowest position in Table 2.

Table 2. Top-ten sources of the plural form Misiewicze in MoncoPL























On his release Misiewicz published a statement requesting everyone to use his full name, which is now common practice among individuals suspected of a misdeed on legal grounds who consider themselves innocent. This in turn confirms the widely shared perception of a derogatory tenor linked to the official practice of surname abbreviation.

6.5. Formulaic as literal

Our next example illustrates a case of impoliteness which seems to have been triggered by an inconsiderate use of a polysemous term and subsequently persuasively presented as a face-threatening act. In June 2019, the Polish Soccer Association published a post on their Facebook profile in which Poland’s 4:0 victory over the Israel team was described as a pogrom. In reaction to this post, the Times of Israel published a story which emphasized the use of the historically loaded term pogrom as ‘harking back to centuries of massacres perpetrated against Jews’[10]. As we further argue below, the original blunder seems to have resulted mostly from the inadvertence if not plain ignorance on the part of the post’s authors.

On the other hand, the abovementioned reaction to this publication is based on the mechanism of literalization; an otherwise neutral use of a formulaic phrase comprising a polysemous lexical item, which in its original, frequently historic, contexts is used to refer to an event or individual with a strong evaluative and emotional marking. The case exemplified here is the widely known form pogrom, often used with it original historical reference to an organized massacre on a minority group or else, but later extended – at least in the Polish language use – to apply to a complete destruction and defeat of an opponent[11]. While the latter sense was most likely meant to be activated by the authors of the post, it was the original sense of pogrom which emerged as an act of impoliteness. There is ample corpus evidence of the present formulaicity and semantic bleaching of this form in modern Polish. As shown in Table 3., pogrom is widely used in reports on sports events where its original sense is almost entirely lost. All the Monco concordances (years 2013–2019) presented in Table 4. refer to such sports events.

Table 3. Polish pogrom concordances with the source and publication date (monco.frazeo.pl)

The key issue relevant to the present study is that it is not the use of the form pogrom, now predominantly occurring in its extended sense of defeat in sport contexts, that arouses any affective reaction with the Polish audience, but its re-activated literal interpretation as presented in the abovementioned press reports which acted as a persuasive emotional trigger of the undesired hostile reaction.

6.6. Ordinary as derogatory

Another example of a seemingly unmarked form which acquires an impolite and emotionally-loaded character in a special context is the form rusycystka, a Polish term used to describe a female Russian language philologist. The average frequency of the word was very low for decades spanning the nineties of the twentieth century until November 2018, before a story published by Gazeta Wyborcza revealed the exorbitant salaries of some assistant directors at National Bank of Poland, as described in Section 6.1. of the present study[12].

The semantic shift in the use of the word rusycystka is reflected in the collocational profiles extracted from texts published before and since November 2018. MoncoPL. As shown in Table 4. there are a number of politically charged collocates of rusycystka in the latter batch of texts, including poupychać, which literally refers to ‘stuffing’ (public offices) with one’s own candidates and Misiewicze, the latter occurring in the coordinated phrase rysycystki and Misiewicze.

Table 4. Top collocations of the noun rusycystka generated from texts published before and since November 2018

Before November 2018

November 2018 – May 2021




























Grzelczak [family name]








Bożena [first name]








Halina [first name]








LO [abbreviation, high school]








Irena ‘first name’








nauczycielka ‘female teacher’








wykształcenie ‘education’








historyk ‘history teacher’







The fact that one of the directors (in charge of public relations) was a female Russian philologist was regularly brought up to express implicit contempt for female philologists stepping out of their payscale, perhaps also because, in public perception, expertise in Russian alone does not represent sufficient qualifications for this kind of high-paying job in the banking sector. The form rusycystka thus emerged and, having acquired a negative connotational value, functioned for some time as a term of abuse and a negative emotion stimulus. The act of persuasive emotionality on the part of the media reporting this fact consisted in shifting the attitude of their audiences towards female philologists from more neutral to derogatory.

7. Conclusions

Media are not an abstract entity. They are people, journalists, audiences, content creators and disseminators. They do not solely observe, report and transmit. They re-frame and re-construct facts and events in numerous ways. They change the semantics of objects and human referring senses from denotational to those that identify them by connotational ones. They insert the stereotypical value senses for the unique ones. They can intentionally mix gender references and replace a suspect for an innocent. They succeed in making neutral values contemptible, belittle the big and significant, and uncover the uncivil and abusive camouflaged in polite and acceptable forms. Provoking the emotions of anger (as in the cases of excessive salaries), disgust and contempt (as with regard to non-heteronormative communities), or, minimally, the ridicule and ostracism, are the weapons of to-day’s media and social media, not only in Poland but universally (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2020).

The study discusses the ways in which mass media discourses construe events (Langacker 1987/1991) in terms of their ideological framing, understood as particular imposed or constructed event models and structures (cf. Gans 1979), which invoke harm, hurt and offence, anger or contempt. Mass media play a role in this persuasive tactics. We propose a characterization of the phenomenon of emerging impoliteness, used as a more or less implicit persuasion strategy towards negative emotionality raising and leading eventually to conceptual content re-conceptualization, instigated by media texts in political media culture. Taken over onto social media platforms the re-constructed conceptual content and emotions are further coloured, multiplied, and universally entrenched. The discussion and survey of the cases presented in our study confirm the key role media and media produsers,[13] i.e., producers and users embodied in single persons, play in the society: All media give their audiences a version of reality, not reality itself.[14] Whether this version conveys a negative or positive image depends on the ideological and aesthetic preferences, on the emotional arousal working as an argumentative and persuasive force which re-establishes or transforms the original conception of the world.


1 See http://monco.frazeo.pl/stats for a current list of sources (Accassed: 12.2018–12.2020).

2 See Goffmann (1962) on Face-Work.

3 Compare Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk and Wilson (in press 1) for a detailed analysis of these emotion concepts in Polish and British English.

4 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2711623.stm. Watson R. "Tony Blair: The US poodle?". BBC News/Analysis. January 31, 2003. Also https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-d&q=tony+blair+called+poodle (Accassed: 12.2018–12.2020).

5 E.g., Dzisiaj zresztą dość obraźliwie atakują prezesa Glapińskiego i jego współpracowników, bo tytuł „dwórki, sio” to wyjątkowe obraźliwe ‘And today they attack president Glapinski and his collaboraters in a fairly offendive way, as the title ‘maidservants, pish’ is particularly abusive’. http://300polityka.pl/live/2019/01/09/bielan-byc-moze-zeby-przeciac-ten-atak-na-prezesa-glapinskiego-on-powinien-dzisiaj-te-informacje-ujawnic/ (Accassed: 12.2018–12.2020)

6 Aleksander B. Gundersen & Jonas R. Kunst. Springer 2018. “Feminist ≠ Feminine? Feminist Women Are Visually Masculinized Whereas Feminist Men Are Feminized“.

7 https://obserwatorpolityczny.pl/feministki-nienawidza-madrych-pieknych-i-odwaznych-kobiet/ (Accassed: 15.12.2020).

8 https://obserwatorpolityczny.pl/misja/ (Accassed: 12.2018–12.2020).

9 https://nczas.com/2020/08/13/same-fakty-o-margot-michal-sz-tylko-bywa-kobieta-na-co-dzien-jest-mezczyzna-i-nawet-ma-dziewczyne-video/ (Accassed: 12.2018–12.2020).

10 https://www.timesofisrael.com/polish-soccer-association-celebrates-victory-over-israeli-team-as-a-pogrom/. (Accassed: 12.2018–12.2020).

11 The Polish Encyclopaeadia PWN entry for pogrom specifies its two conventional senses: 1. complete defeat; 2. ethnic genocide (https://encyklopedia.pwn.pl/haslo/pogrom;4009566.html (Accassed: 12.2018–12.2020)).

12 See https://businessinsider.com.pl/wiadomosci/wyborcza-rusycystka-w-nbp-zarabia-65-tys-zl-na-miesiac/9qneyh3 (Accassed: 12.2018–12.2020).

13 See Toffler (1980) for the concept of produsers.

14 https://ymmediastudies.wordpress.com/2011/02/04/hello-world/ (Accassed: 12.2018–12.2020).


About the authors

Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk

State University of Applied Science in Konin

Author for correspondence.
Email: barbara.lewandowska-tomaszczyk@konin.edu.pl
ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6836-3321

full Professor Dr habil. in Linguistics and English Language at the Department of Language and Communication of the State University of Applied Sciences in Konin (Poland), formerly employed at the University of Lodz. Her research focuses on cognitive semantics and pragmatics of language contrasts, corpus linguistics and their applications in translation studies, lexicography and online discourse analysis. She is invited to read papers at international conferences and to lecture and conduct seminars at universities. She publishes extensively, supervises dissertations and is also active organizing international conferences and workshops.

1, Przyjazni str. 62 510 Konin, Poland

Piotr Pęzik

University of Lodz

Email: piotr.pezik@uni.lodz.pl
ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0019-5840

associate professor and head of the Corpus and Computational Linguistics Department at the Institute of English Studies, University of Lodz. His research interests are centred around phraseology, corpus linguistics and natural language processing. He has authored publications and developed spoken and written corpora with dedicated search engines and other language processing tools and resources.

Pomorska 171/173, 90-236 Łódź, Poland


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