Thursday, November 17, 2005

Word Du Jour

I love how the media offers up a word that is almost never used in every day vernacular, and then the word is suddenly identifiable with a specific event.

Currently the word is pandemic, which is associated with the catastrophic bird flu that is killing fowl and humans all over the world. The last pandemic was AIDS, but back then it was considered a virus, or at most an epidemic. There’s no difference between pandemic and epidemic, etymologically speaking.

A few weeks back, everyone began using the word cabal to refer to the people involved in the Iraq War intelligence dissemination. The group of people involved with the Lincoln assassination were plotters and conspirators. They weren’t a cabal. But it all means exactly the same thing.

Somewhere, perhaps at the Post or the Times, there is some geek sitting in a windowless office who does nothing but pick words out of a thesaurus in order to associate unfamiliar words to current events to make them seem more sinister. Doesn’t cabal sound more like organized crime than just the word plotters? Doesn’t pandemic sound more cataclysmic than plague?

Last year prior to the presidential election, all we heard about Senator Kerry was his flip flop. You couldn’t turn on CNN and not either hear the words flip flop or see them in the footer on the screen. I think the media - the voice of the people - sometimes fails to recognize that there is a vast majority of the population who is illiterate and would not understand what Wolf Blitzer means when he says cabal or pandemic. And while I am all for improving vocabulary, the news needs to be for everyone, not just the educated or those with a dictionary.


  1. Dop: I hadn't even thought of pandemic as a "mot du jour" You make a valid point; namely that that people understand that pandemic is worse than epidemic, and cabal sounds quite evil! CB

  2. agreed... but come on, "plague" sounds pretty f'ing bad.

  3. >>>>>>
    Funny you bring this very topic up today. I happen to be watching CNN today when that magic word, PANDEMIC, came up. I thought the same darn thing. They're really placinng a lot of emphasis on this new word. And while I new what it meant , I thought there have to be some people that don't have a clue and be thinking it sounds pretty horrific (not that I'm making light if it).

    And you know, I have to agree with KB. Plague freaks me out a hundred times more than pandemic.

  4. Dop: While true that pandemic and epidemic are very similar the way in which they are used is differentiates their meaning. Pandemic refers to a disease that has spread to a very wide geographic area and is firmly entrenched in a given population. While an epidemic CAN turn into a pandemic it is commonly seen as a pathogen that has infected a population but isn't as all encompassing as a pandemic. Kind of like how all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares type of thing.

    Yes yes I know, break out the pocket protectors and the TI-83's.... I'm a geek.