Friday, January 27, 2012

On words

I just read this short article(unless it has been updated and the quote removed -- if so, go to google news and search "personal holocaust") and it prompts me to clear up an issue of word usage. The word in question is "holocaust."

I really do try not to be sensitive -- I see people as generally simple minded and not meaning any harm so I let most things go, but when I see one of two things, I am motivated to act:

1. clear and malicious misuse of words - someone misappropriating language or twisting meaning towards nefarious ends.

2. ignorance or simple stupidity.

This article is a case of the latter. The victim, a man who certainly suffered at the hands of his attackers and lost members of his family to the criminal and inexcusable behavior of the horrible attacker describes his ordeal as his own personal holocaust. To my mind, the word "holocaust" has two potential uses:

1. A giant, consuming fire.

2. a systematic genocide (esp. when written with a capital H), usually referring to the German "Final Solution" of the 1930's and 40's.

To say that a home invasion which was localized to one person, which was not driven by any -ism, which did not last for over 7 years or involve fire, is to invoke an extreme inappropriately.

Does this mean that he did not suffer? No. Does this mean that there is no connection between various situations in which a person loses loved ones unjustifiably? No. Does this mean that this was not the most harrowing experience, one which I would never want to undergo? No. Does this mean that he is intentionally diminishing the horror of the Holocaust by equating his more limited experience with the suffering of millions? No.

It means he is getting carried away by the emotion and using words in a particularly offensive way because he is a simple minded victim who is foolishly grasping for an image which would convey his personal feelings, even if that image then invokes completely distinct different images as well.

Would I yell at him for doing this? No. I'd sympathize with his experience, help him deal with his grief and hope that, over time, he can be taught that words are tools, and one does not choose a sledgehammer to hammer in a 1 inch brad.

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