Monday, July 28, 2003
DoubleplusungoodBy the way, think of the phrase "nonviolent drug offenses," which I used below. Aren't all drug offenses, by nature, nonviolent? If a drug addict mugs an old lady to pay for his habit, that's assault and robbery, not a violent drug offense. If a drug dealer shoots another drug dealer over a territorial dispute, that's murder, not a violent drug offense. By using the phrase "nonviolent drug offense," though, we imply that there's another kind. And this implies that some drug offenses are worth locking people up for. And once we imply that, then we're just haggling over the price of each, not arguing a fundamental point.
Without meaning to sound all Orwelly, the words we use matter. They shape (and sometimes cloud) our thoughts. That's why it's important to stop and think about what the words mean, instead of just reflexively using them. And that's why I endorse the use of the phrase "homicide bomber," which many think is silly. I endorse its use not because "homicide bomber" is more accurate, but because a change in our cliches means we have to pause and reflect on what those words refer to. "Suicide bomber" had become a one-word term, like peanut-butter-and-jelly. Nobody mentally broke it down into separate components, because people had become so used to saying it as a phrase. But by introducing the phrase "homicide bomber," people were forced to step back and consider what the words truly meant. Even if they ultimately concluded that suicide bomber was more suitable, it meant that they were thinking about it, instead of just using the phrase thoughtlessly. At least for a little while.
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