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So normally one could use the word "laden" to say,

The trees are laden with ripe fruit. ; This sentence doesn't have any negative emotion linked to it.

But when used with other sentences, like,

The banks are laden with debt. ;

Then laden carries a negative connotation, dictionaries describe "laden" as being burdened with something, so does it always carry a negative connotation?

Just for the purpose of questioning its usage, what if one were to say,

He came in laden with presents. ; One would find it to be a happy situation, so is it appropriate to use laden in ways like this?

Thanks for Your Help!

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  • The usage does imply a burden of some sort, probably with a negative connotation in most cases: Laden: 1) If someone or something is laden with a lot of heavy things, they are holding or carrying them. [literary] I came home laden with cardboard boxes. 2) If you describe a person or thing as laden with something, particularly something bad, you mean that they have a lot of it. We're so laden with guilt. collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/laden – user 66974 Jan 8 at 9:56
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    Depends on what the subject is laden/loaded with. "Laden" receives its connotation from the kind of burden itself. – fev Jan 8 at 10:03
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    Laden with gold coins = positive; laden with sacks of manure = negative (unless you are a farmer). – Michael Harvey Jan 8 at 11:46
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    @PhilSweet - "trees laden with fruit" is such a common phrase that it is practically a cliché, which could be an objection, I suppose, but otherwise it is perfectly acceptable. Collins Dictionary says it's OK "Laden adjective If someone or something is laden with a lot of heavy things, they are holding or carrying them. ([literary) The following summer the peach tree was laden with fruit." – Michael Harvey Jan 8 at 16:01
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    @PhilSweet I don't see the difference between the fishing boat and the fish processing vessel, they both have had fish placed in them by some means for transportation. The connotation is that there are a lot of fish. I would say that a fishing boat with one fish in it is only comically referred to as laden with fish, but similarly with a fish processing vessel. – Mitch Jan 8 at 22:43
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Laden is neutral. You can see the difference in meaning by looking at the same sentences but with a truly negative word such as burdened:

  • The trees were burdened with fruit.

This difference is especially noticeable when the verb is paired with what would usually be a positive noun (like money):

  • They are laden with money
    • (This frames it desirably)
  • They are burdened by money
    • (This frames it negatively)

Usage-wise, as you note in the question, laden is often used in both positive and negative contexts (and plenty of neutral ones too). In COCA, a basic collocation search for laden with shows “table” as the word that collocates most strongly with the expression, and the contexts for that are positive (“table laden with comfort foods”) or neutral (“table laden with books”). The next strongest collocate is “heavily”, which is used in contexts with all types of connotations such as the positive “heavily laden with the fruit” or the negative “heavily laden with historical baggage”.

Going down the list of collocations, there are some groups that have negative connotations, some with positive connotations, and some that can go either way or are neutral. Either way, neither connotation is much more popular than the other.

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  • Have a look at this, collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/laden This is confusing me, it says laden is used for something bad in particular? – Bambara Jan 9 at 15:14
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    "If you describe a person or thing as laden with something, particularly something bad, you mean that they have a lot of it" is actually supporting this answer that context matters most. It's saying that laden is often used when talking about something bad (such as guilt), not that using laden indicates that it's bad. Laden means "weighed down by", and often people are weighed down by negative things, but a table "laden with food" is usually a good thing. – AlannaRose Jan 10 at 18:48
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    So "laden is used for something bad in particular" isn't an accurate rephrasing. More accurate would be "laden means weighed down, and is often used to when referring to something bad, such as guilt" – AlannaRose Jan 10 at 18:49
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Laden is neutral:

1745 T. Warton Five Pastoral Eclogues 20 Where..clust'ring nuts their laden branches bend.

(The quantity of nuts is obviously a good thing.)

1868 T. T. Lynch Rivulet (ed. 3) clxii. 198 Now mount the laden clouds, Now flames the darkening sky.

(The clouds are laden with rain - a storm is coming - which is not a good thing.)

1897 Daily News 13 Sept. 7/1 The laden trains start hence.

(The trains are being used efficiently - this is neutral - if they are laden with weapons it might be bad; if they are laden with supplies, it may be good. )

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    Words receive connotations from one another in context, don't they? – fev Jan 8 at 12:19
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    Instead of cut&pasting some cherry picked examples with no commentary, can you explain how in general these examples are exemplary of 'laden's neutrality? – Mitch Jan 8 at 13:47
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    @Mitch You may have missed the commentary - if you read them, you will see that it is within the examples – Greybeard Jan 8 at 15:09
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    @Greybeard So those things in parentheses are things that -you- wrote? Then why are they in the quotes? That doesn't make sense. A quote is entirely from someone else. Also, what is the source of the quotes? Is it from a dictionary? Which one? Please try to follow standards of research otherwise it is very confusing. – Mitch Jan 8 at 16:23
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    In addition to formatting this properly, you should give some explanation as to why these examples are representative of the word's neutrality...I'm sure there are many more examples of it's somewhat negative connotation, but you should try to explain how your examples would outweigh them (I don't think you can but that's why I'm looking for additional explanation). – Mitch Jan 8 at 16:23

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