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.


Sarah, Get a Dictionary

Since listening to the Palin farewell word salad, I won’t insult speech writers by calling it a speech, I have been waiting for someone in the media to point out that she clearly does not know what ‘apologetics’ means.  No one has mentioned it, at least not that I have heard.

It may be that they have been too busy with all the the more obvious points of insanity and inanity on that incredible, almost meaning-free hash.  Or it could be, dare I say it, they don’t know themselves.

In her stream-of-consciousness monologue, Palin referred to American apologetics, in context that made it clear she meant someone apologizing for America, but that isn’t what it means.

Just as Christian apologetics is a formal defense of Christianity, American apologetics would be a defense of America.

So, ex-Governor Palin, why do you object to people defending America?


…is not a species.  Sometimes the young males in my classroom may seem like a separate species, but they are not, so I wish the people my students are patterning themselves after would quit refering to ‘the male species.’  The expression is the male of the species.

And despite the stupid Smart & Final ad, the saying is ‘make hay while the sun shines’ not ‘make haste while the sun shines.’  It is refering to farmwork, making hay, which must be done in daylight.  There is no reason you could not make haste after dark.

A Rhetorical Question?

Really? What rhetorical point were you trying to make, Ms Palin,when you asked how to go about banning books. In what speech or essay did you ask this rhetorical question to make a rhetorical point? Or did you perhaps mean to say it was a theoretical, or perhaps hypothetical question?


Career opportunities for the Undead

During the Olympics last night the local NBC affiliate aired a spot claiming to be the area’s “news leader” and trumpeting their “firsts.” Prominent among their claims was “First live reporters.”

Who had they hired as reporters before they had live reporters? Zombies? Vampires?

What they meant, of course, was first live remotes (and they are the champion of silly live remotes), but being sure their viewers weren’t smart enough to know what a live remote is, they went with “live reporters” instead. It is in keeping with the rest of their dumbest common denominator news broadcasts.

Organic Rocks?

I have in front of me a catalog advertising “Organic Stone Sculptures.”  These “sculptures” are stacks (they call them “cairns”) of five or seven river rocks with steel rods running up through them so they won’t fall apart.  Referring to these things as “sculptures” and “cairns” is stretching both definitions a bit, but “organic” is just plain wrong.

The term organic may mean slightly different things, depending on who is using it.  If a chemist refers to an organic chemical, she means a chemical containing carbon.  If a biologist says something is organic, he means it is alive, or was alive, or was produced by something that is or was alive.  These uses are related, though not exactly the same, as the element carbon, and it’s ability to form chains and rings and other elegant and complex structures is the basis of life on earth.  What the term means when used by the produce manager of your local megamart is less well defined, but is generally accepted to mean grown without synthetic fertilizers and pest controls.  Similarly, “organic” milk comes from cows not fed antibiotics or synthetic hormones.

None of these definitions apply to a stack of river rocks.