Global warming or climate change? Cuts or savings? Little or Big Society? Enterprise or jobs?
The Economist recently noted that only 44% of American Republicans agreed that "global warming" was happening but, a clear majority - 60% - accepted the reality of "climate change". It's true that they are slightly different ideas but in terms of preparing the ground for public policy they aren't so different. The Al Gores of this world will use either to construct the same infrastructure of green taxes and regulations. On Libya, UK pollsters found very different levels of support for intervention if the stated aim was humanitarian or political.
Back in the UK, Ben Brogan declared that his blog was becoming a "cuts-free zone". Instead, he'd only be talking about the much more positive idea of savings. The BBC (already under pressure from Ed Miliband's spinmeister to refer to the Coalition as the Tory-led government) is being lobbied by the Left not to do the same.
One Cabinet minister, who is very supportive of the underlying idea, wishes David Cameron had called the Big Society, the Little Society. Opposite Big Government are, he contends, the small platoons - the people-sized institutions that treat us as individuals, not as numbers.
And what about David Cameron's attack, at the Cardiff Spring Forum, on the "enemies of enterprise"? Did the PM's speechwriters choose "enterprise" after careful reflection? Or was it a word that they were given to use. Without the benefit of market research my gut instinct would have been to recommend Cameron talked about the enemies of job creation. My hunch is that voters are much more sympathetic to defeating bureaucrats who obstruct job creation than bureaucrats who obstruct entrepreneurs.
American politics - so much more profressional than our own - are so much more careful about words. Republican politicians have been taught to talk only of tax relief, rather than tax cuts. Every US politician gives a carefully crafted name to draft legislation. It's rarely the Environmental Regulation Bill but is given a much more loaded name so, come election time, opponents can be painted as the senator who voted against the 'Reduce Water Pollution Bill'.
It works the other way too. Over-the-top rhetoric can hurt a good case. I tend not to read comments where, for example, people refer to the EU as the EUSSR. There's a wingnut quality to such terms.
Words alone can't rescue a bad policy or kill a good policy but they can make a difference on the margins.
I'll be interested to see what words George Osborne uses to finish his second Budget. Like hundreds of others I've been urging him to go for growth in his budget. He might be better to describe it as a Budget for Jobs. It's (reportedly) what The Group of Forty want. The important thing is that all important Coalition messages are tested in focus groups.