Thursday, November 22, 2012

This post is classified.

I pointed out how I don't like the current use of the word "Tragedy" and Dan kindly pointed out that the OED has had the (IMO) wrong definition since the beginning; so I suppose I  can't blame people for using it to simply describe an unpleasant event even though I still hate it. I also mentioned "alternate" being used for "alternative", but hopefully the error in doing that is obvious to readers. This all got me thinking along these lines and I have another peeve - classified.

It's a staple of any form of spy/thriller film or novel someone has stolen classified information or the agent asks for some information and is informed "That's classified!"; so what? Well by itself that doesn't mean anything.

Consider a 'class' as a group. to classify something is to place it in a class; it then has a classification and has been classified. It doesn't matter what class it has been placed in; it may well be "Top Secret" but it could just as well be "General Public" To say "That's classified!" is shorthand for "That's classified above your clearance" and such shorthand is fine as it makes sense within the context of the discussion, but that's provided you know that it is just shorthand. If you don't it's easy to treat "classified" as being a synonym for "secret" and this may throw up some problems.

Within scientific papers things are often "classified as ..." if you consider classified to mean secret that sentence makes no sense. Ask someone to classify some papers i.e. sort them into classes and if they treat classify as secret they'll stamp them all as "Top Secret" as that's what they think you've asked them to do.

Just a word to be careful around.