One of my pet peeves is when people use the phrase “pet peeves.” Just kidding. What I really want to say is that there are a bunch of words and phrases that are used in the news as well as in popular culture that don’t seem to fit their meaning, or that people use incorrectly. Let’s start with words that are used to describe war.
· Casualties. I remember when I first heard this word, I was a kid watching reruns of the TV show “MASH.” Even back then I thought it was strange to call deaths in war “casualties.” I remember thinking that the word must have been popularized by some generals or heads of state who thought that if they used the word “casualties,” deaths wouldn’t seem so bad. Of course, there’s nothing casual about a death caused by war. It makes it sound as if, “Oh, by the way, some people died,” as if these are side effects of war. Maybe we should think of another word. How about deaths?
· Friendly Fire. When someone is accidentally killed by his own troops, it is called “friendly fire.” Doesn’t sound too friendly to me. The human body doesn’t distinguish where a bullet or a bomb came from. Again, we need a new term for this. According to Wikipedia, this term was originally adopted by the U.S. military. Great. Let’s come up with something else.
· Collateral Damage. This term also originated in the U.S. military. It’s when unintended damage occurs either to people or places. This one isn’t as bad as the previous two, but it still seems to imply that the unintended killing of people is ok, that it’s a necessary side effect of war for a greater cause.
· Theater. This term is used when war is conducted in separate areas, such as the “European Theater” and “Pacific Theater” of World War II. Can you think of anything less fitting than calling a place of war a theater? It makes it sound like it’s a play. Maybe this is used to make war sound more palatable.
Ok, now I’m going to shift gears a little and talk about some other non-war terms here in this blog, just because I’m not sure where else to talk about them.
· Foul Play. This seems to have originated by Shakespeare to describe unfair behavior. Later it was used in sports to describe something outside the rules. Now we see from thefreedictionary.com, foul play means: 1. actions which are not fair or honest. 2. murder. Likewise, dictionary.com, calls it: 1. any treacherous or unfair dealing, esp. involving murder, 2. Unfair conduct in a game. How did we get to “murder” and “especially involving murder?” I just don’t think “foul play” should be used to describe murder. It makes it sound as if it was something mischievous or playful.
News anchors seem so happy to say, “Was foul play involved? Police haven’t ruled out foul play. Is FOUL PLAY suspected? Authorities are not suspecting foul play.” They over enunciate it and seem thrilled to say “foul play.” It sounds like the perpetrators are these madcap, wacky criminals or villains from Batman such as the Joker, the Penguin or the Riddler. Somehow I always imagine the San Diego Chicken running around, or maybe the three Stooges or the Marx Brothers. Just because everyone else says it, doesn’t mean you have to continue to use it. Think of another term. “Foul play” should be used to describe something outside the boundaries of fair play, not murder.
Now here are a couple of terms constantly used in sports (again, for lack of a better place to write about them, I’m including them here).
· Schizophrenic. “That team is schizophrenic.” Sportscasters and sportswriters constantly use this term to describe a team that is great one day and bad another day. There is a misconception that the term means “split personality.” In fact, “schizophrenic” refers to a mental disorder, but not “split personality.” Maybe the sportscasters should use the term “Jeckyl and Hyde” instead.
I did some sports writing and sports casting in the past, and I can vouch for the fact that most of these people (sports journalists) are not very smart. Like the news journalists’ use of “foul play,” sportswriters love to call a team, “schizophrenic,” but it’s not accurate. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon are two of the main culprits, but maybe that’s just because they are on TV all the time. I wrote them about the error but they still continue to use the term.
· Anemic. This is another term that sportscasters like to use when a team has an offense that has a lot of trouble scoring. The offense is “anemic.” Anemia refers to low levels of red blood cells, which results in a lack of oxygen and subsequent fatigue. In fairness, the second definition of anemic relates to a lack of power or energy, but I still think that sportscasters should stay away from using medical terms because it could be offensive to people who have anemia, as if it is their fault that they are anemic. Writers and broadcasters use the word in a condescending, critical way to describe an inept offense, yet people who are anemic almost always have anemia due to factors beyond their control.
· I could care less. So many people use this phrase incorrectly. What they should be saying is, “I couldn’t care less.” When you say, “I could care less,” you’re saying that it’s possible for you to care less about something. It doesn’t make sense. The phrase is supposed to be “I couldn’t care less,” to emphasize that it’s not possible for you to care any less than you do right now. In other words, you don’t care at all about a particular topic. When you say “I could care less” you’re saying the opposite of what you mean, like saying, “I don’t need nothing.”