Medium, “The Language of Tragedy”

May 16, 2013

Adrienne LaFrance, “The Language of Tragedy” (Medium, May 16, 2013)

Euphemisms inevitably sprout in the wake of disaster. Consider the word yesterday, which suddenly meant something specific and terrible on April 16, 2013.

I noticed this new yesterday while I was in Boston reporting on the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. People there weren’t calling them “the marathon bombings.” They weren’t calling the attacks anything, really, even though the bombings were all anyone was talking about.

It got me wondering: What determines how we talk about nightmarish events? And what happens once yesterday turns into last month or last year or last century?

But first: Back to April 16, when yesterday was all you had to say. “Yesterday,” or “the thing that happened,” or “it.”

“The purpose of the euphemism is really to alleviate some sense of trouble that you might feel if you were to use more direct language,” the linguist Ben Zimmer told me; it’s a way of “covering up or avoiding deeper emotions.”

Read the rest here.

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