A tragic misuse of language

Of late, I’ve noticed the repeated use of the word “tragedy” in the news. It’s not a surprise; it’s such an all-purpose word, and it fits in to most sad stories.

I’m sorry, but I object. To me, “tragedy” should befit only circumstances that were accidental, or inadvertent, or unavoidable. Earthquakes are tragic. Many fires and other such disasters qualify as tragedies.

But some events are not tragedies. 9/11 was no tragedy, and my blood boils when I hear it called such. It diminishes the sheer evil of the event. It was an atrocity – no other term applies. It was a deliberate, conscious act of evil that has nothing tragic about it.

And this story from the Boston Herald is no tragedy. The combination of a 16-year-old boy, a three-month-old driver’s license, a buddy in the passenger seat (in violation of the law), Daddy’s BMW, no buckled seat belts (also against the law), a 40-MPH speed limit on a straightaway, and the Sunday night before school starts is a guaranteed recipe for disaster. The only surprise was that the driver lived. (Correction 1: The driver died, the passenger survived.) The parents of the driver shouldn’t be emphasized (correction 2: empathized) with, they should be censured and condemned for giving a performance car to such an inexperience driver. And the driver should lose his license for a very long time, and perhaps some time behind bars ought to be in order.

I’ve also noticed that the massacre at the school in Beslan is being called “tragic.” That is such a perversion of language, I want to throw heavy objects at the monitor/tv/radio and scream obscenities at the top of my lungs. “Atrocity” doesn’t even come close to it. I don’t think we have a word that adequately describes what was done there, and it grieves me greatly that we have sunk to the point where we need such a word.

So think carefully about it when you hear the word “tragedy.” It’s such an easy way to distance the evil from the perpetrators. It helps you focus on the victims, and avoid the ickiness of laying the blame where it belongs. But it’s the easy way out, and it needs to stop now.


(Author’s note: Thanks to Larry and Aaron for calling my attention to the errors in the 4th paragraph above. Preview is my friend, preview is my friend, preview is my friend…)



  1. Larry Morin September 11, 2004
  2. gogman September 11, 2004
  3. Jay Tea September 11, 2004
  4. firstbrokenangel September 11, 2004
  5. Aaron September 11, 2004
  6. Ken Hahn September 11, 2004
  7. Rodney Dill September 11, 2004
  8. JingoJim September 11, 2004
  9. -S- September 11, 2004
  10. Andy September 11, 2004
  11. -S- September 11, 2004
  12. firstbrokenangel September 11, 2004
  13. Jim Kouri September 11, 2004
  14. Hunter September 11, 2004
  15. Bruce September 11, 2004
  16. Hunter September 11, 2004
  17. Hunter September 11, 2004
  18. Spoons September 11, 2004
  19. Just some guy September 11, 2004
  20. Andy September 11, 2004
  21. firstbrokenangel September 12, 2004