Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The misuse and abuse of terror words to describe far-less serious issues


1: a sacrifice consumed by fire

2: a thorough destruction involving extensive loss of life especially through fire

3a often capitalized : the mass slaughter of European civilians and especially Jews by the Nazis during World War II —usually used with the b : a mass slaughter of people; especially : genocide

Minnesota Republican rep. Michelle Bachmann (one of my favorites) used the holocaust as a metaphor to describe the tax burden on Americans, which according to Bachmann, will eventually suck up 75 percent of young workers' earnings. (Really? 75 percent? Even in socialist countries, the tax burden isn't anywhere near 75 percent...and the U.S. has one of the lowest tax rates in the developed world.)

Here's a reflection by Rabbi Abraham Cooper on why the misuse of the word "holocaust" (and other words) matters.


1: an act or instance of robbing or despoiling or carrying away a person by force

2: unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent — compare sexual assault.


A few weeks ago Chris described a friend as saying that he'd been raped by the high price of tickets for a particular concert (prompting a lecture from me on the meaning of the word "rape"!). People habitually use the word rape to describe being taken advantage of (see this comic strip and article). Now conservatives are calling the extra security precautions by the TSA "gate rape." Yes, the new procedures are invasive...but THEY ARE NOT RAPE! No one with any ounce of sensitivity would use the term "rape" knowingly in front of a rape survivor...but rape is one of the most underreported crimes in the country. Rape survivors are everywhere.

1: a person held in servitude as the chattel of another

2: one that is completely subservient to a dominating influence

3: a device (as the printer of a computer) that is directly responsive to another

4: drudge, toiler

This topic came up during my book group last week, when we were discussing The Help. One person recounted using the world "slave" casually and being called on it by an African-American teacher. I know that I have often used this word in such contexts as "work like a slave." Hearing it discussed at my book group was an aha moment for me, akin to discovering the origin of the word "gyp."

The other day, Rush Limbaugh compared democrats to slave owners and drug dealers. Using this word in jest negates the real historical abuse and terror of African-Americans in this country.

What do you think?
Have you used these words of terror without thinking about their implications? Will you think twice about it next time? Previously I've written about the misuse of the "R" word (retarded). Misused words are all around of us. Most of them are not important. But these words are. Use them correctly and sensitively.

Words have power.


  1. Just quickly on the "gate rape" issue (and I apologize that this is going to come out muddled):

    I've been raped and I've been sexually assaulted in acts that qualify as the latter but not as the former. I have PTSD from both. I traveled in December 2010 - and while I wouldn't use the term 'gate rape' (and 'gate assault' is just not so snazzy) -- I definitely felt violated and assaulted by the combo body scan and pat-down I underwent. I was triggered, and it was Not Cool.

    I 100% do not support anyone who appropriates the term 'gate rape' -- or who appropriates "rape" in general -- for political purposes. But I also would not judge any sexual assault survivor who claimed their TSA experience caused them to relive their assault. Rape survivors are everywhere, true and statistically -- but this also means they may be the ones using the term because that is what it authentically feels like to them. (For the record, it authentically felt like I must submit to an invasive pat-down in order not to waste $800 and not to be stranded in an airport indefinitely. Scary and ungood.)

  2. Excellent point, Tori. I completely understand and can relate to what you are saying. I'm sorry you had to experience that (both the real rape and the PTSD rape).