Until well into the modern period, concrete was used to mean what is now called abstract. The terms originated as grammatical descriptors for related pairs of nouns and adjectives, then came to be reinterpeted as logical categories tied to the presence or absence of a clear mental image. They remain ambiguous, yet are used as though every word fell clearly into one or the other category. Mid-20th century critiques of political language (Ogden & Richards, Orwell) focussed on how ‘abstract’ language enables governments to deceive and control ordinary citizens, and current political rhetoric continues the tradition – as do, surprisingly, fMRI studies of language functions in the brain. This article proposes taking abstract and concrete not as semantic properties of words but as aspects of how words are used, and reimaging their link to thought processes along subtler lines.