Word Abuse

The professional talkers are abusing words again.

In watching MSNBC before I headed out to school today I was confronted with two major offenses, both occasioned by the not bomb in Times Square this weekend.

The first is a simple mistake.  One of the talking heads said something to the effect that it was “incredulous” that such a poorly constructed bomb had been made by an organized terrorist group.  No.  What he meant, of course, was that in was not credible, or that it was incredible, but ‘incredible’ has come to have other connotations – wonderful, amazing, etc. — that no doubt made him reluctant to use that word.  That does not make incredulous the right word.  He may have been incredulous, in that he was unwilling to believe it, but it was not incredulous.  I expect to have to explain that difference to my freshman English students, but not to a professional journalist.

The other offense is more nuanced, but was also repeated.  They, and others, have repeatedly referred to the vendor who reported the suspicious car, and the police officer to whom he reported it, as heroes.  I’m sorry, but while their actions were proper, even laudable, and they deserve recognition, they were not heroic, and the insistence on calling anyone who does anything admirable a hero devalues the word, ultimately rendering it meaningless.

And in a similar example of hyperbolic over-reach the middle of the night anchor for CNN demonstrated why he is relegated to the middle of the night when he referred the failed device as something that could have killed thousands. Again, no.  If it had ignited it might have been a good-sized fireball, but it would not have exploded, so, no, it would not have killed thousands.