The right word... well, a single word can convey a lot. There are words with connotations that can come across as positive or negative. Connotation can be situation-dependent, so what is positive in one context can be negative in another. That's why precision of language can be so important, because some words mean more than what they mean.
I was reading an article about family money issues. It was just one of those articles you read while waiting for your car to be repaired, you know? But this one posed a question and then asked regular people what they thought. The question was, "If you help one of your children out financially, should you tell the others?"
Hmm. Good question, especially in this time of financial insecurity for young people. One of the respondents said, "Yes, you should tell the other children, because you shouldn't keep secrets from them."
Another said, "If you help one child out, you should keep it confidential."
Now I was struck by that, because (as usual) I agreed with whatever I was reading. (I'm really easy.) Oh, right! Keeping secrets is bad! Oh. Right. Keeping confidentiality is good.
Hmm. Okay, so I didn't actually come to a decision about this issue. But I did notice that both respondents used the same word (keep) and then another word that means the same basic thing. One talked of "keep secrets" and the other said "keep confidential."
Both those refer to the very same action: Doing something and saying nothing about it.
But from one view, that's "keeping secrets" and bad, and from the other view, that's "keeping confidentiality" and good.
For the writer, the existence of "connoted terms" like "secret" and "confidentiality" can be another tool in the toolbox. Those who live or die by rhetoric already know this. They know that the language is full of paired synonyms, one which could be positive in this context, and one which would be negative. And the one you choose can give a boost to the tone or feel of your sentence or paragraph.
Let's work on some of these pairs, just for fun. The ladies (talk about a connoted term :) will recall a list of masculine and feminine attributes that were actually the same:
Men are determined; women are stubborn.
Men are ambitious; women are pushy.
and there were reversals, where the attribute that was positive in women was negative in men:
Women are gentle; men are weak.
Women are nurturing; men are needy.
Okay, enough old-line feminism. :) Point is, if you want to make determination a negative, call it "stubbornness," right?
So what are some pairs like that?
My kids point out that the word "youth" almost always is connected to something negative, while "teen" is a pretty positive term, and "young adult" is quite positive.
How about "moral" and "moralistic?" Okay, they might mean something different, but how much of the difference is actual, and how much is connotation? That is, I might think (insert famous preacher's name) is "moralistic," but I bet he thinks he's "moral." The words have slightly different meanings, though the same basic meaning, and the connotation will probably be negative or positive.
"Interrogation" and "questioning or asking." Have you ever tried in a friendly fashion to get information out of a youth, I mean teen? He says, "Stop interrogating me!" and you say, all injured innocence, "I'm just asking!"
Even colors. I remember buying a lovely sweater that the boutique owner described as "citrine," but my dad called "baby shit yellow."
What about "escape" (positive) and "abscond" (negative)?
"Praise" and "flattery?"
What are some others, and how would you take advantage of their connotations in sentences or passages? How about dialogue?