Archive for January, 2009

Friendly Fire is Foul Play

January 11, 2009

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, foul play means:  1. actions which are not fair or honest. 2. murder.  Likewise,, 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.”


No Reply at All

January 5, 2009

I’ll never understand why some people don’t reply to email.  It seems that this is America’s new national sport.  If you don’t want to take action on a subject, simply don’t respond.  It’s one thing if the recipient is very busy or occasionally forgets.  And I’m not saying all emails need a response.  Many informational emails don’t require a response.  Jokes certainly don’t.  However, if someone has taken the time to give very detailed recommendations or is asking a very specific question, to simply ignore the email I think is inappropriate.  It results in the sender not knowing whether the recipient agreed or disagreed with the email.  Some people, rather than send a negative email, will simply not reply.  However, this brings up a problem.  What if someone sends an important email and never gets a response?  Is the sender to interpret that the lack of a response meant that the person receiving the email disagrees with it or has a problem with the person who sent it? 


This brings up a point about getting things done.  There’s actually a book called “Getting Things Done” by David Allen that says that if something is important enough to be done, if it takes less than two minutes, just do it and get it over with rather than letting it pile up on your to do list – even if it’s less important than larger projects.  Sending a response to an email that obviously requires a response is worth the time it takes.  You might as well respond right away if possible rather than wait and risk forgetting about the issue.  Or do them all in batches, once a week.  This concept can be used in other areas too.  Say you have a long to do list.  You should do the most important items first, right?  Not necessarily.  If the minor items are worth doing, you can get some of them over with quickly rather than bury them behind longer projects. 


There are a couple of exceptions.  In the dating world, it’s commonly known that the lack of a response means that the person isn’t interested.  I’ve sent emails to women saying, “It was nice meeting you.  Do you want to meet again sometime?”  And a lack of a response means no.  Likewise, I’ve done the same thing many times myself – simply not respond rather than say, “No thanks.”  Obviously another exception would be spam, or unwanted email.  But other than these exceptions, I believe that all questions posed through email deserve an answer rather than run the risk of alienating the sender and causing confusion as to whether the recipient has a problem with the message or the sender.  When someone sends an email requesting information or providing important information, it is respectful and appropriate to respond, even if the answer is, “I disagree” or “No, thanks.”     


It’s also nice to let someone know that you’re working on a response or an answer.  For example, if you get a request by email, but you won’t have the answer for a couple of weeks, don’t wait for two weeks to respond.  Say something like, “I got your email – I may not have an answer for a couple of weeks but I will be working on it.”  When I worked for Metro Traffic, which does traffic reports on the radio, drivers would want to know how long a delay would be.  It wouldn’t necessarily get them home any faster, but they were happier knowing how long it would take and that there would be an end to the delay.