My mother always calls it like it is — always has. After my Grandpa died, mom heard me say to a friend of mine, "He passed on."
"Don’t say that," she said. "Say, ‘He died.’"
I read a thoughtful piece in "The New Republic" called "Trigger Shy — Virginia Tech and our impoverished language for evil." (4/30/07) Writer Gregg Easterbrook discusses how the mainstream media have become gun-shy when it comes to using moral language about issues of good and evil.
Easterbrook points out that in the days following the Virgina Tech tragedy the media referred to Choi Seung-Hui as the "shooter" roughly three times as often as "killer" or "murderer." (I wrote my religion column about this a few weeks back for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and referred to Choi as "the killer.")
Though it took almost no time to find out that the shooter, indeed the killer, was in fact a mass murderer, the language in the news stories remained the strangely technical, almost neutral "shooter."
A shooter is someone who holds a firearm that discharged, implying nothing about any moral choice involved. It seems that postmodern journalism increasingly avoids clear, defining language.
Easterbrook puts it this way: "Media and thought leaders don’t want to say that the man who chained the exit doors of Norris Hall before he started killing had a mind taken over by evil; they want to dismiss him as no more than a confused gunman, because they don’t want to contemplate his demonstration that evil is entirely real."
Thus, they used words like "shooter," removing the moral dimension. "Well," someone told me, "The guy was clearly crazy." See what I mean? If a person is insane, it takes the thought of evil out of the equation.
Friends, terrible events don’t just happen. Evil exists and ought to be spoken of as evil, not in euphemism.
"On a windy Monday morning in Virgina," writes Easterbrook, "evil armed itself and performed the most despicable of acts: pleasure in the taking of innocent life."
George Orwell said unless we call a thing what it is, we neither think about it clearly nor oppose it.
(Image of Shooter/Murderer from the 4/30/07 New Republic)