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Sunday, May 13, 2012

War on 'war': the overuse, dilution of the word itself | Saritha Prabhu, The Tennessean

I hadn't thought before of the language issue raised by Saritha Prabhu, but having now read her column: I agree with her concern 100 percent. 

As a longtime opponent of nuclear weapons and the nuclear arms race, I stopped using "nuke" and "nukes" years ago. Those casual words minimize and dilute the true meaning of the ghastly catastrophe that would undoubtedly occur if any country again uses such weapons on human beings.

And as Prabhu writes, misusing "war" also for casual purposes dilutes the true meaning of that word. In real wars:
  • Blood and guts are spilled all over the place.
  • People are trained to hate other human beings.
  • Innocent children and other civilians die in each other's arms.
  • The childish leaders launching the battles never die leading the attacks.
  • People shoot and bomb with the singular purpose of killing other human beings.
I will never again use the word war except when referring to battles of one country's military against another country or countries--and against its own people. I will never again quote anyone who uses that word in silly, preposterous, misleading ways. 

And I encourage you, our news media and our leaders to make a similar vow. 

I will be adding this type of advice to Garbl's Editorial Style Manual, which now says this in the war entry:
war "War is hell," said Civil War General William T. Sherman, no matter what it's called. Avoid euphemisms like armed conflict, armed intervention, a military solution, police action, uprising, use of force. Capitalize the word when part of the name for a specific war:World War I, World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War, the failed Vietnam War, the endless Gulf War. Also, if one country invades or attacks another country, there's no war until the other country starts defending itself, as it has a right to do.
Here's what my style manual says in the nuclear, nuke entry:
nuclear, nuke Potentially misused. George W. Bush and some other U.S. presidents have mispronounced nuclear. But just because presidents say something doesn't make it true or correct. (Think WMD in Iraq.) It's "noo-klee-ar," not "noo-kyuh-lar." And spell it correctly too; it's not nucular. Also, casual use of the slang word nuke for nuclear minimizes the death and destruction that would come after use of nuclear weapons. Avoid using nuke whether you're writing about attacking with nuclear weapons or cooking with a microwave oven. See weapons of mass destruction.
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