Search This Blog

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Language Inflation

As time goes by various words and phrases apparently lose their punch. People cease to appreciate them, desiring to describe something that has grown, become bigger, grander, more intense than that which had existed to date. Two simple examples should suffice.
Jesus told in the parable of "The Widow's Mite"(Matt 12:13-17) about a woman who had contributed her entire resources to alms for the poor. And He declared that what she had done was unmatched because she "gave all". At that time "all" was sufficient. He had no need to declare she had given "110%".
Up until very recent years we would be warned of the potential for contagious illness spreading by being told of flu epidemics. And we understood that this was bigger than the possibly small, contained situation wherein one might catch an illness from immediate family members. This meant that schools and churches and the marketplace could harbor carriers of whatever contagious bug was out there.
But a mere epidemic is not grand enough to categorize Swine Flu (oh wait, we do injustice to poor pigs calling it that). The H1N1 virus is not just of epidemic proportions. No! We must crown it a Pandemic for surely none of our ancestors have seen anything matching its ferocity and reach. [And yes, I get that worldwide travel perhaps render this a technically correct differentiation.] But it still seems to me that many of the historic epidemics we're read about were more ferocious than our latest pandemic ever thought of being. This just ain't what I had envisioned for a pandemic back when I was studying epidemics. Where's the boils, spitting up blood, etc??
Returning to the "110%" nonsense, one fears that this type of playing fast and loose with our vocabulary is not just silly. It confuses many people who probably don't really need to be confused. If we blow away the concept of "giving your all", then what are the bounds? How is ALL not significantly superior to 110 or 120 or 200%? If we don't have a maximum value (such as "ALL") then where's the top? My giving 110% effort can easily be topped by somebody. All they have to do is give 125%. Where can it end?
This whole concept is, of course , not significantly different from the tendency in recent decades for "grade inflation" in schools. But I grow weary and don't wish to tackle it tonight.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Copycat Cable News

I know I've railed about this in the past. This latest example just reinforces and proves my earlier points. The producers and decision makers at the two CNN channels and at MSNBC and FOX never cease to amaze me. Early yesterday they acted like they were filming the scoop of the year. I'm talking about the two-hour balloon ride in Colorado during which the pundits and commentators breathlessly told us of the innocent six year old boy who was an unwitting passenger on the runaway balloon.
Like many televised car chases featuring local police and state troopers, the video we watched was uniform and mostly unenlightening. Toward the end, though, one side of the balloon deflated some, rendering it a giant beret flying across the Colorado high plains.
But the cable news boys stayed on the case. (And why did both CNN networks feel obligated to do this? Were they afraid one wasn't enough?) Their pronouncements were all based on the mistaken assumption that the lad was, in fact, in the basket or box at the bottom of the balloon. That's understandable enough and even forgivable enough. But what defies logic is that they proceeded to spout all manner of idiotic speculation in the absence of hard facts and news. One network (it only gets to remain anonymous here because I can't remember which one) compared the flight of this balloon to the "Ghost Flight" of Payne Stewart years ago. Several of them mused as to whether the boy would have any role to play in trying to effect a soft landing of the balloon. And all of them commented endlessly about the weather, that "10,000 feet" up it would be much cooler than the 70 degrees on the ground. (Of course, most of them omitted that "the ground" was/is over 5000 feet up there.) Was there sufficient oxygen for the boy to survive?? Would he "freeze"? In hindsight, it was a bit comical, though we couldn't know that at the time -- the fact that the balloon was empty.
Whether this ends up being identified as a planned prank by the family or merely confusion by a weird family, we don't know today. But my point is, cable news should abandon their senses when these events begin. They should act and think with some degree of intelligence. And yesterday, I didn't see it from any of them.