Monday, March 9, 2015

Incidentally...Get a Dictionary When Tragedy Strikes!

I have begun many a blog about the deterioration of the English language. Very few of them have actually been completed. They are instead sitting in my drafts folder. I suppose I've given up, admitting defeat. Every now and again, however, I just get so agitated that I begin yet another blog. This was the case during the past few weeks. Perhaps this time, I'll actually finish.

There was a news report on or about mid February. It described the brutal murder of three students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They were honour students in their early twenties, a married couple and the wife's sisterThey frequently did volunteer work in the community. They also happened to be of Muslim descent. The neighbour, a forty-six year old car parts salesman shot them in the head. Why? Unknown to this point. Some say, a dispute. Others claim it was racially motivated. Either way, it was horrific. When I saw this on the news, there was an interview with the wife of the murderer. "It was an unfortunate incident," she said.

I later saw a New York Times quote about this despicable act.

In the afternoon, Ripley Rand, the United States attorney for the region, said the shooting appeared to have been “an isolated incident” and “not part of a targeted campaign against Muslims.”

Whereas "isolated incident" is in this instance is not incorrect, in my opinion, it could have been better stated as an "isolated occurrence" or an "isolated event."

Recently, there have been other news reports describing riots, deaths, kidnappings, and killings. The newscasters have referred to these occurrences as "incidents". I cringed.

Does anyone even know the meaning of the word "incident" anymore?  Is everyone so lacking in vocabulary nowadays that they can't think of proper terminology when something occurs, or are we all so desensitized to the news that everything has become an incident? 

A facebook friend agreed. She said:

"I don't think it's meant to trivialize occurrences. I think it reflects an ever shrinking pool of words to which people are exposing themselves. Language evolves with each generation. We know and understand that. However, it still doesn't make it alright for paid wordsmiths to misuse the millions of words at their disposal. Get a thesaurus for goodness sake. Few of our parents were university educated but they had a far better grasp of eloquence and precision in language than one witnesses via media sources today."

So here's my gripe. I was always taught that an incident is a minor occurrence or an embarassing event. Using it differently is akin to finding a big word in the dictionary that you don't really understand, and using it willy-nilly. It's not that I haven't done that before, but then I don't profess to be a professional newscaster, journalist, or public figure.

How many of us remember President Ford falling down some steps? It was minor and it was embarrassing. It was an incident. President Clinton falling asleep during a Martin Luther King memorial speech was an incident. President Bush vomiting into his dinner in Tokyo was an incident.

The cold blooded killing of three students, the death of yet another Canadian soldier, and the kidnapping and murder of people by Isis are not, I repeat, NOT incidents! They are tragedies and as such, deserve to be called nothing less.

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