I came across this interesting excerpt from the autobiography of the author of the Dynamic Programming method:

“[the word dynamic] has a very interesting property as an adjective, and that is it's impossible to use the word dynamic in a pejorative sense. [...] Thus, I thought dynamic programming was a good name. It was something not even a Congressman could object to.” - Richard Bellman

And I wondered if there is a linguistic way to formalize such concept and if I could find a small list of such adjectives.

I don't believe it's really impossible to use it in a pejorative sense: "the legislation on this topic is too dynamic". But it's a scenario that I had to search a subject that is specifically meant to not be dynamic, so the "pejorativeness" comes from the antithesis. Adjectives like "fast" and "strong" can still be used pejoratively on objects that are meant to be somewhat fast or strong, like a car going too fast or a pepper that is too strong.

EDIT: I guess something that is normally dynamic can be too dynamic too. "The variables in this chaotic system are too dynamic" or something like it. So maybe only affordance adjectives are really in this category?

I believe "agile" is another of such adjectives, and to use it negatively hard because it's about the ability to be quick. I wonder if such affordance adjectives are consistently positive adjectives.

Does this make sense as a definition?

  • If I'm disarming a bomb, the last thing I want is for my hand to be dynamic. – Jason Bassford Jun 28 '20 at 2:22
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    Affordance can carry negative connotations. If I describe someone as ethically flexible, that's not usually a complement. However, morally agile is a term connoting appropriate situational awareness and accommodation. – Phil Sweet Jun 28 '20 at 14:28
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    In your examples, aren't you achieving pejorativeness by adding an adverb, e.g., too? Could you make dynamic and the other words you mention pejorative without adding an adverb? – Richard Kayser Jun 28 '20 at 18:59
  • @JasonBassford yes, but you'd probably say you wanted your hand to not be unsteady. – Mary Jun 28 '20 at 19:32

They have a positive connotation.

Connotation refers to a meaning that is implied by a word apart from the thing which it describes explicitly.


Words may have positive or negative connotations that depend upon the social, cultural, and personal experiences of individuals. For example, the words childish, childlike and youthful have the same denotative, but different connotative, meanings. Childish and childlike have a negative connotation, as they refer to immature behavior of a person. Whereas, youthful implies that a person is lively and energetic.

  • Not sure I agree that your words have the same denotative meaning. For example, does childlike have the same denotation as childish and youthful? How would you support this assertion re denotation? – Richard Kayser Jun 28 '20 at 19:05

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