Sometimes a college education does not a scholar make.
As someone who uses words to tell a story, explain a problem or make an argument, there is always a struggle to use the right word to communicate a point. There are also many times when you struggle to not say the wrong one. Saying the wrong word can have much more serious consequences. So when I hear well educated members of the media, or members of Congress using words which convey the wrong message, well it really bugs the hell out of me.
Case in point: the word tragic.
In August of last year, as insomnia won the battle of the night, I flipped through the TV channels and came across a re-run of Geraldo on Fox News. Sitting in as host that night was Monica Crowley. Veteran journalist that she is, there is no doubt she understands the meaning of the word tragic. But there she was discussing the Lance Armstrong scandal and stating that if indeed he doped (which we now know as fact), it would be a tragedy. A Tragedy. She said it twice.
Yesterday the U.S. Senate tried to get a confirmation vote for Chuck Hagel as the new defense secretary. The vote was blocked, and even though it seems pretty certain that Hagel will be confirmed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it was “tragic” that Senate Republicans decided to filibuster a “qualified nominee.” Tragic.
What the hell is tragic about either of these incidents? Troublesome maybe, but when twenty children and six teachers are slaughtered, that is a tragedy. When Mother Nature flexes her muscles and a tsunami drowns thousands of people, that is a tragedy. There is nothing remotely tragic about postponing a Congressional vote.
The word tragedy is now being used in speaking about the ill-fated Carnival Cruise ship Triumph. It is a horror, no doubt. It is distressing to those onboard, it is uncomfortable and it is something I would not wish on another human being, but unless the woman who was airlifted off the ship after suffering a stroke dies, it is not a tragedy. People who live on the southern coast know about tragedy. They had one you might have heard of… Hurricane Katrina.
The world today is a place where news is transmitted instantaneously, making it so much easier to have your errant words go viral on youtube. This alone makes it so important for public speakers to use the correct wording.
Otherwise the results could be…