Thursday, November 15, 2012


Via my news feed from the Shuttle

AS Wyre Forest prepares to remember its road accident victims this weekend, drivers are being urged to take extra care on dark nights and cold mornings to avoid further tragedies
Okay disclaimer yes I'm a pedant at  times, but I try to keep a lid on it as much as I can. This however just gets me annoyed* because of what it really means and how it is being used almost constantly to describe any unfortunate event.

The word "tragedy" is of Greek derivation used to describe a genre of play in which a mistake of the protagonist sets them down the path of misfortune. The mistake is supposed to be easily seen by the audience, but remain unknown to the protagonist. Moreover the audience is supposed to enjoy the play based on this premise. It's a form of schadenfreude; the taking of pleasure from the misfortunes of others.

What that means is if someone describes the death of someone as a tragedy or simple being tragic what they're saying is that they saw this death coming and did nothing to stop it because they gained more pleasure from being able to say "I told you that was going to happen" after the death.

Except they're not because tragedy now simply means "really bad thing" due to linguistic drift and evolution. We just seem to be losing the depth to our language due to simplistic definitions of words.

*Oh and don't get me started on the Americans' use of the word alternate instead of alternative in the SF genre. "Oh it's an "alternate universe" does that mean it changes back from one to another?"


Dan H said...

Hmm. OED records the first use of "tragedy" to mean "An unhappy or fatal event or series of events in real life; a dreadful calamity or disaster" as 1509. In contrast, "alternate" as a synonym for "alternative" is quite the neologism: the first use in that sense isn't recorded until 1776.

If you wanted to get annoyed about how people today can't speak the language correctly, you were born too late. Now there's a tragedy.

FlipC said...

Tell me about it. I once referred to a workplace as a "manufactory" simply because the goods were made by hand and received multiple querying looks for the term.

Yet oddly goods can be manufactured in a factory, but I've never heard of them being 'factured' ;-)