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OnWords: Regulation


The word “regulation” takes on different meanings depending on where you stand.

Libertarians tend to bemoan it. Environmentalists are likely on board.

They both can agree that “regulation” in sports is not only OK, but probably necessary. Those who play assent to regulations that govern sizes and weights of bats and balls; lengths, widths, and layouts of courts and fields; and all manner of minutiae only the refs and the hardcore fans ever bother to know.

So humans are not averse to regulation itself, just the set of situations under which we are subject to it. If we go willingly, we are fine with regulation, even proud to know the regulations well. But the last thing we want is a regulation that is (quote) “stuffed down our throats.”

Regulation can be neutral too. Few but the most diehard horologists would have strong feelings about the regulators in watches and clocks, and I would imagine just about all of them would agree on the devices’ necessity.

The most extreme negative reactions to the word “regulation,” therefore, hit on our basic notions of liberty, which we believe should not be curtailed. And our most positive reactions tend to be associative: the rules that make the game fair, the industry clean. And our neutral reactions tend toward the practical: regulations are the standards necessary for functionality.

Regulation, then, is an object lesson in how a word that is not about emotions inspires emotional reactions.