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A tragic misuse of language

Of late, I've noticed the repeated use of the word "tragedy" in the news. It's not a surprise; it's such an all-purpose word, and it fits in to most sad stories.

I'm sorry, but I object. To me, "tragedy" should befit only circumstances that were accidental, or inadvertent, or unavoidable. Earthquakes are tragic. Many fires and other such disasters qualify as tragedies.

But some events are not tragedies. 9/11 was no tragedy, and my blood boils when I hear it called such. It diminishes the sheer evil of the event. It was an atrocity - no other term applies. It was a deliberate, conscious act of evil that has nothing tragic about it.

And this story from the Boston Herald is no tragedy. The combination of a 16-year-old boy, a three-month-old driver's license, a buddy in the passenger seat (in violation of the law), Daddy's BMW, no buckled seat belts (also against the law), a 40-MPH speed limit on a straightaway, and the Sunday night before school starts is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. The only surprise was that the driver lived. (Correction 1: The driver died, the passenger survived.) The parents of the driver shouldn't be emphasized (correction 2: empathized) with, they should be censured and condemned for giving a performance car to such an inexperience driver. And the driver should lose his license for a very long time, and perhaps some time behind bars ought to be in order.

I've also noticed that the massacre at the school in Beslan is being called "tragic." That is such a perversion of language, I want to throw heavy objects at the monitor/tv/radio and scream obscenities at the top of my lungs. "Atrocity" doesn't even come close to it. I don't think we have a word that adequately describes what was done there, and it grieves me greatly that we have sunk to the point where we need such a word.

So think carefully about it when you hear the word "tragedy." It's such an easy way to distance the evil from the perpetrators. It helps you focus on the victims, and avoid the ickiness of laying the blame where it belongs. But it's the easy way out, and it needs to stop now.


(Author's note: Thanks to Larry and Aaron for calling my attention to the errors in the 4th paragraph above. Preview is my friend, preview is my friend, preview is my friend...)


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Comments (21)

Hey Jay, read that story ag... (Below threshold)

Hey Jay, read that story again. The driver is deceased, the passenger is the one who survived.

I agree whole heartedly with you on the word tragedy.

The teenager being killed w... (Below threshold)

The teenager being killed would be best classified as a "senseless death".

It was a lack of common sense that killed him.

Damn, Larry, you're right. ... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Damn, Larry, you're right. I must've misheard it on the radio, and didn't read the story carefully enough.


I'm glad you straightened o... (Below threshold)

I'm glad you straightened out who was who there, Jay for the driver did live; it was his friend who did not. A girl walking a crosswalk to school the other day (channel 5) was hit, run over, and killed. Would you consider that tragic? We don't always have words that fit the bill which is why tragedy is used. In the Beslan school, I use "barbaric terroristic massacre" rather than a tragedy because that's what it was. Yes it was tragic and an atrocity but those words just don't fit the bill on that situation. Barbaric terroristic massacre" is all I can come up with even though I don't think there is a word that actually describes what happened. 9/11 was another barbaric atrocity massacre but even that doesn't explain the full value of that situation. I never used the word "tragedy" when it came to either of those situations. There really are no words that adequately describe what happened at Beslan or even 9/11 but what word does? Satan came to visit one day? I'm still trying to get my mind around Beslan and whenever I see the site "we will never foget" with pictures and music, I sob like a baby because it cuts deep into the core of me and there is just no way to explain it. Tragic doesn't cover either situation. It does however, cover what is happening in Darfur, because that could be avoided if only the government of Sudan would admit to it and allow for help in the region. Atrocities are being done there and it's tragic that someone, anyone, can't do anything about it. The Beslan massacre could not have been avoided because no one knew something like this would happen; it's worse than a nightmare and "tragic" doesn't cut the mustard. I guess we are going to have to come up with new words but having to do that is tragic.

I agree. Not to nit pick b... (Below threshold)

I agree. Not to nit pick but you may want to change it to "empathized" not "emphasized"...

For each of the individuals... (Below threshold)
Ken Hahn:

For each of the individuals killed and injured and for their families, it is fair to say it was a tragedy. The evnt itself wasn't. With that exception, I'll agree.

TRAGEDY...3. A disas... (Below threshold)
Rodney Dill:

3. A disastrous event, especially one involving distressing loss or injury to life: an expedition that ended in tragedy, with all hands lost at sea....

Dictionary.com doesn't include an accidental component in the definition of Tragedy in any part.

To me, "tragedy" should befit only circumstances that were accidental, or inadvertent, or unavoidable.

and To Dan Rather the Bush National Guard documents are authentic, but that doesn't make it so.

Tragedy is probably an overused word, as many are by the media, but I don't see the case for misuse.

You, sir, are correct as pe... (Below threshold)

You, sir, are correct as per usual.

Since I've already had my c... (Below threshold)

Since I've already had my crying time this morning, I've now decided to move on to comedy and a lighthearted appreciation of just being alive in these days o' strife and struggle and commemoration.

In that vein (ouch! not my vein! Get OFF me!)...anyway, in that vein of thought, I'd like to offer this about language, with thanks to TruthLaidBear...you have to go read the site to get the idea...so go do that now...go, I said...:


Kerry Hulk Update: "Unless it not right smashing at right time. Then KERRY HULK NOT SMASH PUNY BUSH!!!"

Awwww...I always liked The Hulk. Maybe they should write up Kerry as, um, one of the Zombies in "Shaun of the Dead" or something, instead.

Anyway, I can't feel sad any more today. I've decided to make 09/11 from this year forward, a day of happiness and creativity and new ideas.

So, Smash Puny Kerry!

Jay,When we get do... (Below threshold)


When we get done analyzing the misuse of the word "tragedy", could we move on to "hero"?

The elderly crossing guard who jumped in front of a car and landed herself in a hospital to save a child in Brooklyn a few years ago

The NYC traffic reporter who keeps it a secret that he gave up a kidney for a friend

The police, firefighters, and military who face danger daily for us

These are heroes. They deserve not to have the word cheapened by it's misuse and overuse.

If Jay is taking suggestion... (Below threshold)

If Jay is taking suggestions for the next word to discuss...I vote for the word, "documentary."

I misstyped it and meant th... (Below threshold)

I misstyped it and meant the driver was killed. Tragic seems to be the word used most to cover something awful, really awful and I kind of think I know where you are going with this. If tragic doesn't cover it, that means we're going to have to come up with new words that do... and as I said, "that is tragic." But that's the new reality these days and it's extremely unfortunate. Look at what is happening in Florida and then California with fires. I'm not worried about losing California, but I have a strong feeling we will lose Florida, for good. In essence, we need to rewrite the dictionary and thesauras, and again, having to do that in itself, is tragic. Both occasions were caused by terrorists. This accident was caused by a kid who was probably drinking and definitely driving way too fast. He died but his friend survived - but in what kind of condition???? The driver is to blame, not the passenger. Either way, it does end up tragic for both of them and their families.

Jay Tea, you are so right. ... (Below threshold)

Jay Tea, you are so right. I've always wondered about catch-all word tragedy. Shakespeare wrote tragedy as did other authors. I had a professor once tell me that certain events may be tragic, but they might not be tragedy.


PERSPECTIVES OF AN INDEPENDENT: Regardless of what happens on November 2nd one aspect of this election campaign has become abundently clear. Freedom of speech is alive and well in the new mellenium. When Ted Koppel goes on network TV and bemoans that the internet has become a danger to democracy the American electorate can rest easy in their beds that exactly the opposite is true.

The monopoly that the Liberal press has used in past years to press its aganda is officially dead with the advent of so called blogosphere, the mass of individuals that make up a real and diversified cross section of the voting public. Neither side, Republican or Democrat, can any longer send forth blatently partisan efforts through the media without a sure and swift critical examination under the microscopes of honesty, objectiveness, and accuracy.

The current "Memogate" controversy is just one in a long string of political dirty tricks from both sides that, having been immediately exposed as a fraudulent attempt to effect the outcome of a National election, now threatens to result in the ruin of the reputation of a major media corporation and the end of the careers of several network executives and a promenent newscaster. Contrary to Mr. Koppels contentious remarks, America's bloggers are forcing an honest open debate at a time when our country finds itself under attack and in the most dangerous waters since the days of the height of the cold war.

One can speculate and argue the merits of any given issue. What isn't so clear is how either party, particularly the Democrats whose very existence depends on, and was framed in the crucible of free speech, now finds itself championing the idea that counter viewpoints and voices should be suppressed. That no amount of duplicity is to be curtailed in the interest of victory.

Once the decision has been made by the voters this Novenber both sides would do well to sit down and examine the tactics and motives that promote the kinds of shameful activities that have surfaced in this election cycle. No amount of pointing at the opposing camp and bitterly blaming each other back and forth will alter the facts that have come to light.

More to the point is that politics, as we Americans practice it, will never be the same. Historians in the future, whatever direction they come from in telling the story, will not be able to escape the simple conclusion that it was power to the people through the new voice of politics, the blogoshere, that was the catalyst.

I blogged this a few days a... (Below threshold)

I blogged this a few days ago, taking the same angle, and was called a low-life by someone deperately out-of-touch with reality.


Not supprissing Bruce. Its ... (Below threshold)

Not supprissing Bruce. Its patently obvious that the Democratic party machine has been hijacked by the extreme left, inluding a core of people who are really socialists to the point of borderline marxists.

The moderates and conservative Democrats, confused, frustrated, and feeling powerless to do anything about it, hold on grimly and watch the lefties marching their party over the political cliff.

Personal attacks, railing at anyone who dares point out the problems are the only "spitballs" they have left in their bb guns. When Zell Miller steps up to the plate and says "I don't know who the hell these people are anymore. They don't represent anything I know or remember about the party I grew up in" the moderates cringe. Not because they really hate Miller, but from a deep feeling of remorse and shame in their own people.

When things like "Memogate" happen they retreat to silly positions like "I refuse to believe that the DNC and CBS people are stupid enough to do something like this...". - My answer is always the same. - Neither party will ever again enjoy the unchallenged advantage of fielding partisan, lie based "Newscasts".

Truth like oil will always rise to the surface now, assured by the efforts of bloggers like you and I..."

...And all the other millio... (Below threshold)

...And all the other millions of bloggers that are the true journalists of the brave new cyberworld...

I dissent.There's ... (Below threshold)

I dissent.

There's nothing about the word tragedy that implied accident or act of god. It just means it was horrible.

9/11 was a tragedy.

A tragedy is when someone f... (Below threshold)
Just some guy:

A tragedy is when someone falls from the heights of glory to the depths of despair through some personal flaw or failing of character.

Under that description, Dan... (Below threshold)

Under that description, Dan Rather is a tragedy. Strange, I always thought he was just a liberal shill.

There seems to be a lot of ... (Below threshold)

There seems to be a lot of "tragedies" over this past weekend now that school and college has started. The first college student died last weekend in a Fraternity House from an overdose of alcohol. As soon as I heard it, I said to myself "Here we go, it's the start of the year" just like "when it's the end of the year and kids are graduating from high school" although most schools, especially here in NH have new rules about that time period; it still always happens. This girl drank too much, people thought she was sleeping so did not bother her - gee how many times have we heard that? Then they find she either threw up and choked to death or the amount of alcohol just slowed her down so much, it slowed down and shut down her heart and she laid there on the couch for a day before anyone noticed something wasn't right. Karen Ann Quinlin went that way too but unfortunately.... they tried to revive her - big mistake. As a mother I have tried to raise my children right but not everything I do or say means they are actually going to listen to it all but thus far, they have and they are now 20 and 30. When my 20 year old wants to drink, I allow him to in the home, or at a party as long as he's not driving and there is a limit on what I will allow them to have. They might extend that limit out of my universe with their friends but in the end, I think I win out. My dad was a fireman for 45 years, most of it spent also as an EMT/paramedic, the first in the 7 state New England area and I do remember one of his greatest fears and that was getting to an accident and finding one of his (7) children. He was lucky enough to never have had that happen and it still is on my mind (although I do not drink) even now while he is watching me from heaven.

Being a parent is about the hardest job in the world and all you can do after doing your best is to have faith in the Lord to keep them safe. When something does happen, you still can't lose that faith because maybe it was meant to be - ie collateral damage. I lost my husband before I was 25, my brother when I was 28, my mom in 1998, my fiancee in 1999, my dad this year. For the longest time I thought God was trying to make me a saint but what I was and always will be, is a caring, compassionate, emotional, understanding human being who used to get called to ICU's and ER's to deal with family and patients of those who probably would not make it. Only one did. I still have no idea how a gunshot wound to the head survived it with only blindness. Sometimes the pain is unbearable and when I would leave a hospital, put the key in the ignition the tears would fall.

I hear a song now and I cry. I watched "the Passion" sitting forward with tears running down my face the entire time, never realizing how tensed up my body became. I've lost so many cousins, aunts, uncles, people who were important to me and I never thought I would make it this far but it is what makes me understand situations better, but then I always did; I was always different. Just watching the beginning of Nascar tonight, ending with Donald Rumsfield doing the "Pledge of America", the song, the prayer, the flyovers, I still could not stop and the tears run down my face.

When someone loses their child this way, dear God, my heart is with them; I can't imagine anything worse which makes it hard for my mind to get over what happened at Beslan school in Russia. That long well planned, long thought out and prepared event was an atrocious, horrific, barbarian, terroristic TRAGEDY that no one should ever have to carry and damn to hell those that caused it.

Parenting is part of this kid's death but personal responsibility is the other part. The worst thing is, did his passenger survive (he has a few more days if considered brain dead) and in what condition is he or their family going to remember it? All we can do is the best we can and hope that our kids listen and that they don't get in cars with people who have been drinking too much and get out if they drive too damn fast. As I would tell my sons, CALL ME if you need a ride - and they would or they'd walk home. What part of this accident did the passenger have in it? Will he be brain damaged? Will he walk? What will be his life after this? Since I've seen so much, I can't give anyone a definitive answer unless I know the answers to the questions but either way, if he makes it, he will be a constant reminder of what happened and I hope both sets of parents help each other out. and not let to suffer alone.

My $0.02 worth.






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