Name calling is a form of verbal abuse in which insulting or demeaning labels are directed at an individual or group. This phenomenon is studied by a variety of academic disciplines such as anthropology, child psychology, and political science. It is also studied by rhetoricians, and a variety of other disciplines that study propaganda techniques and their causes and effects. The technique is most frequently employed within political discourse and school systems, in an attempt to negatively impact their opponent.
Name calling is a cognitive bias and a technique to promote propaganda. Propagandists use the name-calling technique to invoke fear in those exposed to the propaganda, resulting in the formation of a negative opinion about a person, group, or set of beliefs or ideas. The method is intended to provoke conclusions and actions about a matter apart from an impartial examinations of the facts of the matter. When this tactic is used instead of an argument, name-calling is thus a substitute for rational, fact-based arguments against an idea or belief, based upon its own merits, and becomes an argumentum ad hominem.
Politicians sometimes resort to “name calling” during political campaigns or public events with the intentions of gaining advantage over, or defending themselves from, an opponent or critic. Often such name calling takes the form of labelling an opponent as an unreliable and untrustworthy quantity, such as use of the term "flip-flopper".
Gratuitous verbal abuse or "name-calling" is not on its own an example of the argumentum ad hominem logical fallacy. The fallacy occurs only if personal attacks are employed to devalue a speaker's argument by attacking the speaker; personal insults in the middle of an otherwise sound argument are not ad hominem attacks.