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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gun Imagery Fills Language of Debate | Peter Baker, New York Times

You can't miss it, even if you don't focus on it. Huh?

I mean the language of gun use--even when gun use isn't the topic, as discussed in this article. Consider these terms:

  • point blank
  • shooting for Tuesday
  • no silver bullet
  • with a gun at the head
  • target, missed the target
  • stick to their guns
  • take aim, fresh aim
  • under fire
  • a misfire
  • shooting for more
  • going ballistic.
I've used some of those terms in my writing and speaking. I even have an entry in Garbl's Editorial Style Manual on using target:
Before using this word, visualize aiming an arrow at it. If you can't hit the target or miss it, avoid mixing metaphors and choose another word. Besides using hit and miss when mentioning a target, consider using verbs like concentrate on, focus on, single out or aim at. If you prefer verbs such as achieve, attain or pursue, substitute nouns such as objective, goal or result for target.
Baker writes:
No wonder it is hard to get rid of gun violence when Washington cannot even get rid of gun vocabulary. The vernacular of guns suffuses the political and media conversation in ways that politicians and journalists are often not even conscious of, underscoring the historical power of guns in the American experience. Candidates “target” their opponents, lawmakers “stick to their guns,” advocacy groups “take aim” at hostile legislation and reporters write about a White House “under fire.”
The ubiquitous nature of such language has caused people on both sides of the emotional debate in recent weeks to take back, or at least think twice about the phrases they use, lest they inadvertently cause offense in a moment of heightened sensitivity.
Besides the value of removing the jargon of violence from our language when it's not relevant to the point we're making, creating other metaphors with other words can be invigorating. It means we're giving more thought to what we're saying and how we're saying it.

People might actually read carefully what we've written or listen more intently to what we're saying--instead of thinking, "Oh, I've heard all this before."

Related to this discussion, my online editorial style manual notes the use--and misuse--of the words nuclear/nukewar, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD):
nuclear, nuke Potentially misused. ... 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.
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. ... Also, avoid diluting the meaning and realities of war by using that word in terms like war on drugs, war on women, and war on religion. Instead, reserve war for referring to battles of one country's military against another country or countries--and against its own people.
weapons of mass destruction Potentially misused. ... Avoid using the abbreviation WMD; it minimizes the death and destruction that would come after use of these deadly weapons. Instead, shorten the phrase using nuclear weaponschemical weapons or biological weapons

Baker's article is featured today, Jan. 17, in my daily online paper, Garbl's Style: Write Choices, available at the Editorial Style tab above and by free email subscription.

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