The other day, the building where I was working was on lockout. There was a shooter in the office park and police had sealed off the area. They were pursuing a person of interest in the incident, an alleged gunman who was still at large and presumed armed and dangerous. The targeted victim survived the attack and was transported to the hospital with unknown injuries.
Lockout, shooter, sealed off.
Gunman, at large, armed and dangerous.
Target, victim, attack.
Considered alone, each of these words and phrases has a very different meaning from when they are strung together to describe yet another event of violence in our communities.
Although not as shocking as the Aurora theater shootings, Jessica’s abduction and murder, high-speed chases through quiet neighborhoods, and Sandy Hook or Columbine, the scene I describe here plays itself out all too often, searing additional scars on the landscape of a civil society.
Such words, common enough on their own, are now a part of a growing lexicon of carnage, a new vocabulary of violence.
I, for one, am sick and tired of it.
I’m sickened by the loss, the grief, the terror, the waste ... sickened by randomness, senselessness, and injustice.
And I’m tired of trying to use our everyday language to give these vicious acts some sort of meaning.
When did “lockout” come to mean more than forgetting my keys, and a “shooter” more than a short glass full of strong stuff?
What about a victim being targeted? Targets are for archery practice and marketing plans and weight-loss goals — not the end results of violent actions. And I’d much rather leave high-speed chases to the Indy 500 and abductions to aliens.
When did a suspect become a “person of interest?” This sounds more like speed dating to me. I can’t help but wonder if this is a case of art imitating life or life imitating art ... in this case, a TV drama of the same name.
I do understand, though, why we need to use such language carefully, including the word “alleged.” The right to a presumption of innocence in our country is not shared in all courtrooms around the world, even by enlightened nations.
Of course, this word-choice policy exists prevent a rush to justice — founded on a rush to scoop the news that often results in misidentification, miscommunication and wild speculation — but lately, this concession has been stretched to ridiculous levels. For example, as the hearings for James Holmes were taking place recently, I heard the events at the theaters described as the “alleged shootings.”
Wait a minute … all the circumstances surrounding this tragedy are yet to be known fully, but the shootings themselves aren’t “alleged” — they happened.
That’s one reason why I’m sick and tired and saddened that our beautiful, powerful, well-respected and well-loved language is being corrupted to include this new vocabulary of violence. I’d much rather think of an “attack” as coming from the flu, and of a “shot” as something to protect me from it.
That’s a lexicon I can live with.
Andrea Doray is a writer, media watcher, and careful consumer of the news. Her own vocabulary includes Southern colloquialisms from her dad and Midwestern pronunciation from her mom, to say nothing of what she’s learned as a Coloradoan all these years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.