Misuse of Language

Misuse of language is one of my pet hates. So are the Halifax adverts. And my husband’s snoring. And people buying books who count out their money onto the counter, then hold out their hand for the change; that makes me seethe inwardly. But I digress.

Misuse of language; it happens all the time, mostly quite innocently, cropping up in conversation. But then there are those misused written words, printed words, published words. They have less excuse; they are deliberate, or at the very least, thoughtless. Writers beware! It’s one thing to come across wrong words in an early draft of a chapter or short story  – although  I have come across words misused where quite clearly the context demands the antonym, and I have wondered… but I’m digressing again. The specific lexical instance that has brought me to this point occurred in last Saturday’s* Telegraph Review Magazine (I did search for the article online, but got bored looking, frankly). The article was an interview with Tom Hanks, about the new series he has produced with Steven Spielberg, The Pacific. I quote from the second introductory paragraph;

“Between the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the mornings in August 1945 when atom bombs fell on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki…”

(Will Lawrence, Telegraph Review, 27 March 2010)

I have a problem with this. Bombs do not simply fall passively from the sky. They are actively dropped. Even in the context of an article about American bravery against an alien culture** – the Imperial Army’s refusal to surrender, kill or be killed was the only order – this curious evasion of culpability stands out. Yes, Japan attacked first. But they attacked the US Fleet. By dropping two atom bombs on two cities, the US caused an unthinkable amount of collateral damage, and changed the world forever. You might as well say that the RAF flew over Dresden, which then coincidentally spontaneously combusted. Writers beware – we are responsible for how the past is written for the future to read. We must choose our words with care, lest we forget, and the truth be obscured from our children.

* I only caught up with reading the Review Magazine today, owing to last weekend’s loss to the migraine.

**And don’t get me started on classic Western narcissism, anything Occidental being good, everything Oriental, mad. Edward Said put it so beautifully, so concisely, so eruditely, in his book Orientalism, and I have just realised that I have lost my copy – HORRORS!

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4 thoughts on “Misuse of Language”

  1. Agree. Have you read JL Austin’s How to do things with words? You’re discussing performativity here, which critics such as Norman Fairclough andvan Dyk then use politically in discourse analysis. Writers should have to read these thinkers if they are going to be published and read.

    1. No I haven’t read them, and to be honest I doubt if I will. There is a limit to the amount of time a writer can spend reading if a writer actually wants to get on and write. Let others politicise the process if they must, but that route isn’t for me.

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