Many human rights charters contain prohibitions on inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners and detainees. Terms like “inhuman” and “degrading” are difficult to interpret, but they are certainly not meaningless. It is important to attend to attend to the meanings of the words themselves, as well as to the decisions that courts have made about particular practices. Reflection on the meanings of these highly-charged terms reveals important complexity, which we can unpack in a way that enables us to better focus our debate about the proper treatment of prisoners and detainees. Focusing on the ordinary-language meaning of evaluative terms like “inhuman” and “degrading” also helps us approach the relation between rules and standards in law more thoughtfully, as we see why it is important not to let the evaluative meaning of these terms be superseded by the definitions established in the course of their application.