Thursday, August 04, 2005

More Terminology Stupidity

There seems to be a whole category of error, which consists of someone using a term as a better way of saying something else, and then treating it as if it were a complete synonym for that other thing, using it wherever the original word would be used, and ending up saying something completely stupid as a result.

"Homicide bomber" was originally, as I commented below, a perfectly sensible way of making a particular point—that when distinguishing between different kinds of bombers, the fact that a paticular one intended to kill people is more significant than the fact that he was willing to kill himself. But when people adopt this new term without thinking about it, what happens is that internally they're still thinking "suicide", and at output time they just impose a blind substitution, and they end up saying that the London bombings on 7-Jul-05 were the first homicide bombings in Europe. Or, when people blindly substitute "African American" for "black", they end up talking about "African American cats", or about Arab Sudanese massacring "African American" Sudanese.

Here's another example: Joel Rosenberg reports on an anti-gun campaigner who uses the term "criminal" in a non-standard way, with amusing results.

There's got to be a name for this category of error, but I have no idea what it is.

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