Tag Archives: words

Some of These Things Aren’t Like the Other

The English language is a crazy language. We don’t spell some words the way we pronounce them and we don’t pronounce others the way they’re spelled. On top of that we have words that are pronounced the same but are spelled differently. These are called homophones, such as pair, pare, pear, or weigh and way. There are quite a few of these to confuse a poor soul. Some of them are listed here: CrazySquirrel.com

But there are words that are not homophones, which people treat as though they are. In other words, people get confused when writing and use the wrong word. Here is a short list of some of the common words which actually are not pronounced the same yet are often confused.

  • Rational vs Rationale: Rational (rashunull) is what I hope you are, a rational intelligent sponge. Rationale (rashunal emphasis on the last syllable) is what I hope a rational human being can deliver. If you have a rationale for your decision to make turnip houses, it means you have a reason, principles or belief that these work better than bricks.
  • Averse vs Adverse: Averse means unwilling, reluctant or opposed to, as in having an aversion to something. I’m averse to eating larva. Adverse means unfavorable or acting against, the humidity and acid lakes in the lizard world caused adverse conditions for humans. These words are much more similar and easily confused.
  • Lightening vs Lightning: Lightening (3 syllables) means to remove darkness from something, as in the sky was lightening as the thousand alien ships tore away after harvesting Earth’s cows. Lightning is that bright jagged light that forks out of the sky after a storm. The lightning illuminated the sky and the 30-foot giant coming over the horizon.
  • Yeah vs Ya: Yeah is also spelled “yah”. It means affirmative or yes, as in, yeah that was some crazy lizard dance you just did. Yay is a form of cheering, as in yay we have slipped the yoke of servitude and will never succumb to human power again. Yay is like hooray and pronounced how it looks. This one people seem to mix up a lot, say “yeah me” when they often mean “yay me.”

That’s it for the non-homophone words that people mix up. There are of course others but until the aliens release their hold on my mind or your vocabulary, the rest will need to wait until later. From the mothership, have a grammatically fun day.

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What Makes a Word a Word?

Oxford University Press, the supposed authority on the English language has recently been updating the dictionary. Every living language evolves, with slang as well as words falling in or out of favor, and meanings changing. I would think though that instead of regional (or these days, media generated) changes that are as popular as long as a show or fad lasts, the words would have staying power.

But Oxford claims they very much research these words. Their criteria are listed on their site. The word has to be used by more than one person and be in use for a certain period of time. They say that words or definitions are added when “people are using them unselfconsciously, and expecting them to be understood.” The word must appear in print at least five times, which when you think of a review of a show or movie, can give that word staying power rather quickly. In our world-wide web, that doesn’t seem to be a very high criterion at all. Only five times to gain the immortality of the dictionary?

Now when you consider the English language it’s been evolving for a very long time. Spelling was definitely not codified even in Shakespeare’s time, partly because it was still only the elite classes who could read and write. But people wrote it how they liked. The first English dictionary is credited to Robert Cawdrey’s A Table Alphabeticall published in 1604. He listed the words, with definitions. Before then there were lists of words, sometimes to try to control their spelling but not with definitions attached. Yet, the change in words was slow, because few people traveled and then by horse and carriage or by foot.

Along came faster transportation by train and then car and planes. These modes helped to also transport the language and various usages to a larger geography and population.  Then came the interweb (one of the newly added words) and suddenly words from all over the world were more accessible, through blogs, books, websites, reviews–information and entertainment sites of all types and styles.

Oxford says it used to be that a word had to be used over a period of two or three years, but now in the digital age this time period has shortened because a word can attain enormous currency rather quickly. Well, yes it can. I’m surprised that they looked at words that were around for only two or three years. That doesn’t seem to be enough time for a word to have staying power, and now less time is needed? I never heard of chillax (to calm down and relax, which when you think of it is about the same thing) or bromance (a close but nonsexual relationship between two men–I thought that was called friendship) until last week when the news announced Oxford’s newest additions to the language.

Now, sure these words are used by some. I don’t watch TV sitcoms or comedy shows so maybe I’m the equivalent of living in a small town far from London in the Middle Ages, and I don’t hear the new lexicon. But I just think that some words should be a bit more permanent. Okay, I know. The language changes. No words are necessarily permanent but to add the latest fad or cool word that might only be used for the season of a show and then fall out of everyone’s vocabulary, well it just seems too temporary. Will bromance and favicon even be around in a year. Playing Scrabble is going to be a lot easier and harder. You’ll need a new dictionary every year to play the game if you’re play one of those new hot words that everyone’s using but no one’s heard of.  But hey, you can make up words more and they may actually be right.

I have heard of and used turducken, tiki torch and steampunk, all new words in the dictionary. But then tiki torch has been around a long time and steampunk at least for ten years. (Hey WordPress, why are these words being highlighted as misspellings?) Maybe Oxford can start different lines of dictionaries. The could have the New Oxford Dictionary of Temporary But Utterly Cool Words, and the Oxford Dictionary of Words We Will Understand in Ten Years. But then, it’s not an easy job picking and choosing and the English language is rife with changes and additions. I think a job like this could be fun, but I wonder if there would be huge arguments such as  whether staycation is a real word or just a passing phase.

Evolution of the language is speeding up, which means in ten years you may not be able to understand what your neighbor’s saying, even if you do now. So perhaps I’ll just go the WordPress “favicon,” check my “hashtag” at the door and “tweetup” with an “ampelographer” for a drink later if we can avoid the “attack dog.”

Oxford Press Site

A Table Alphabeticall

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The Difference Between Little Y Words

With the many forms of electronic communication, millions of people write notes, letters, emails, text messages, but not many spell well. Of course frequent written conversations have given way to slang (teh from common finger slip-ups…and one that I hate), and shortenings (thru for through, u for you), and acronyms (OMG=oh my god, TTYL=talk to you later, ROFL=rolling on the floor laughing). It has also increased many misspellings of words because we hear phonetically but the written word has some silent letters in it.

One set that is often easily confused are the little “Y” words: Yeah, Yay, Yea. When you are agree with someone but don’t use the more formal “I agree” or “yes” you might say instead, “Yeah.” The phonetic version, which has also crept into the written language as a slang vernacular is “yah.” Like the Beatles once sang, “I love you, yah yah yah (or yeah yeah yeah).

But I often see this written word used for a form of jubilation and cheer, which should be “Yay!” Pronounced like “hooray” yay is much the same in meaning. Yay for me and yay for you. But try and spellcheck this and it might come up as not a real word. English slang it is then but pretty common in our spoken language.

Yea is an older form of yes, and can also be seen as “aye,” (pronounced eye) which makes us think of sailors. Yea verily, yea is most often seen now in voting. All those who oppose voted nay and those for, voted yea. Yea is pronounced yay, but the meaning is very different. Yet yea’s meaning is the same as yeah and yes.

I know I might be fighting against the crumbling of the English language and any living language will evolve, but I can still try. “Yea verily, I will say yay if people use yeah correctly. Yah yah yah.

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George Orwell’s Doublespeak Continues

In George Orwell’s dystopian Nineteen Eighty-Four Winston Smith lives in “a world of perpetual war, pervasive government surveillance, public mind control, and the voiding of citizens’ rights.” (from Wikipedia) The Ministry of Truth perpetually rewrites information and history, bringing about a truth that is half if not whole fiction. They are the early spindoctors where they put the best spin for the government’s means on news and phrases. From Orwell we get the word “newspeak” and “doublethink” and although he did not use doublespeak it is often attributed to him. From whatever its origins it did come about around the same time as the novel came out and Orwell’s use of combining words caught on.

Doublespeak (or doubletalk), according to Wikipedia, means “to disguise or distort its (language’s) actual meaning, often resulting in a communication bypass.” It’s euphemistically used to make a phrase ambiguous. A T-shirt I once saw said “Eschew Obfuscation.” If you even know these words then it’s funny because eschew pretty much means avoid and obfuscation means confusion. The uncommon use of the words means that the simpler statement of avoid confusion would be better to most people. This is a great example of doublespeak.

Doublespeak thrives today and here are a few examples of how the language has been twisted to put a favorable spin on word, phrases or concepts that we would normally see as negative.

  • Downsizing–this used to be called “layoffs.” These days the corporation looks better if they’re just reorganizing their assets and “downsizing” than getting rid of people.
  • Improvised explosive device (IED)–this used to be “homemade bomb” but perhaps it put a negative slant on all those people in homes, not to mention that some of these homemade bombs are made in shacks and shops.
  • Ecodensity–I love this one. It’s now touted as the best thing for our overcrowded cities. That’s right, “ecodensity” means pack ’em in like sardines, or “overcrowding.”
  • Collateral damage–Yeah. when all those Dessert Storm guys were inaccurately shooting their missiles at everything (and every military farcus since), they called what they weren’t aiming at “collateral damage.” We call it “dead people” or “victims.”
  • Racial profiling–it’s now the new way for the US and cohort countries to get away with “racism” when stopping undesirables at the border. I wonder if the KKK uses racial profiling to screen their members. It’s also known as bigotry.
  • Domestic engineer–this was an almost ludicrous one that didn’t last long and was supposed to replace housewife. These days, most people say homemakers.
  • Person of interest–police forces use this a lot right now. Really, it’s the same thing as saying a “suspect” or a “material witness.”
  • Sales advisor–no one wants to be a clerk anymore so they’ll advise you on what to buy. I don’t know about you but in most cases I get no advice, nor want it.

I wonder if anyone is ever fooled by these phrases. Probably some. Oh yeah, ecodensity. We put eco in the word and everyone loves it. When government and politicians use it, it’s time to be suspicious because it’s usually covering up something we wouldn’t like and they have to tell us about but don’t really want us to notice what was going on. Some governments use it all the time.

There are more phrases out there but these are the ones that jump to my mind at the moment. But if we’re still using so much doublespeak, then perhaps we have to look to that

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Writing: British Fantasy Awards & Stuff

I’m listing the recent announcement of shortlisted works for the British Fantasy Awards. I am not nominated but the anthology Cone Zero that my story “The Fathomless World” is in, has been. But then, none of the stories from the anthology have been nominated so I wonder if that bodes ill for the anthology winning the award.

Of course, for me it would have been better if my story was nominate but that’s okay. And it’s too bad that some of the reviews really just recapped the book and my story didn’t make much of a splash. Pooh. I liked it but perhaps the most informative review was a very late, after the fact one, where the reviewer decided to leave his notes as haiku, partly because it was so late. The one which I’m sure was for “The Fathomless World” said something like, “more style than substance.”  That would be the middle line of the haiku if you count “style as a two-syllable word.

So it goes. I thought it had substance but I also did it in a mythic style. I continue to send works out and work on new ones. Unfortunately the whole economic crisis has affected story markets to the point that I’m thinking I should just be working on my novel and skip the stories right now. For speculative fiction, whether horror, fantasy, science fiction or other, there are not a lot of markets to submit to right now. Some have gone the way of the dodo, while the majority of the pro markets (those that pay five cents a word or more) are closed to submissions or on hiatus. A sad state indeed.

And it’s always been a sad state that the pay for speculative fiction has been so low. Definitely not a make-a-living type of wage. Literary markets as a whole tend to pay somewhat better but many of them also pay the equivalent of $100 a story, which many anthologies do. Some literary markets pay anywhere from $15-40 a printed page, which again could work out to the same amount.

Why do we write then? For fame? Partly, though that’s a long hard road. Hardly for fortune. And maybe most of all, because we love words and our minds just keep filling with them and we want to tell a story and share in the mysteries of what-if. And not onto the shortlisted works for the British Fantasy Award.

BEST ANTHOLOGY

    Cone Zero(DF Lewis) Megazanthus Press
    Myth-Understandings (Ian Whates) Newcon Press
    Subtle Edens (Allen Ashley) Elastic Press
    The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 19 (Stephen Jones) Constable & Robinson
    The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror(Ian Alexander Martin) Humdrumming
    We Fade To Grey(Gary McMahon) Pendragon Press

BEST NOVEL (THE AUGUST DERLETH FANTASY AWARD)

    Memoirs of a Master Forger(William Heaney/Graham Joyce) Gollancz
    Midnight Man (Simon Clark) Severn House
    Rain Dogs(Gary McMahon) Humdrumming
    The Graveyard Book(Neil Gaiman) Bloomsbury
    The Victoria Vanishes (Christopher Fowler) Little Brown
    Thieving Fear (Ramsey Campbell) PS Publishing

THE PS PUBLISHING BEST SMALL PRESS AWARD

    Elastic Press (Andrew Hook)
    Newcon Press (Ian Whates)
    Pendragon Press (Chris Teague)
    Screaming Dreams (Steve Upham)
    TTA Press (Andy Cox)

BEST COLLECTION

    Bull Running for Girls (Allyson Bird) Screaming Dreams
    Glyphotech(Mark Samuels) PS Publishing
    How To Make Monsters(Gary McMahon) Morrigan Books
    Islington Crocodiles(Paul Meloy) TTA Press
    Just After Sunset(Stephen King) Hodder & Stoughton

BEST NOVELLA

    “Cold Stone Calling” (Simon Clark) Tasmaniac Publications
    “Gunpowder” (Joe Hill) PS Publishing
    “Heads” (Gary McMahon) We Fade To Grey, Ed. Gary McMahon – Pendragon Press
    “The Narrows” (Simon Bestwick) We Fade To Grey, Ed. Gary McMahon – Pendragon Press
    “The Reach of Children” (Tim Lebbon) Humdrumming

BEST SHORT FICTION

    “All Mouth” (Paul Meloy) Black Static 6, Ed. Andy Cox – TTA Press
    “Do You See” (Sarah Pinborough) Myth-Understandings, Ed. Ian Whates – Newcon Press
    “N” (Stephen King) Just After Sunset – Hodder & Stoughton
    “Pinholes in Black Muslin” (Simon Strantzas) The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror, Ed. Ian Alexander Martin – Humdrumming
    “The Caul Bearer” (Allyson Bird) Bull Running For Girls – Screaming Dreams
    “The Tobacconist’s Concession” (John Travis) The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror, Ed. Ian Alexander Martin – Humdrumming
    “The Vague” (Paul Meloy) Islington Crocodiles, TTA Press
    “Winter Journey” (Joel Lane) Black Static 5, Ed. Andy Cox – TTA Press

BEST COMIC/GRAPHIC NOVEL

    30 Days of Night: Beyond Barrow(Steve Niles/Bill Sienkiewicz) IDW Publishing
    All-Star Superman(Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely) DC Comics
    Buffy Season Eight Vol. 3: Wolves at the Gate(Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard/ Georges Jeanty) Dark Horse Comics
    Comic Book Tattoo Tales Inspired by Tori Amos(Ed, Rantz A. Hoseley & Tori Amos/ Various) Image Comics
    Hellblazer: Fear Machine (Jamie Delano) Vertigo
    Hellblazer: The Laughing Magician(Andy Diggle/Leonardo Manco & Daniel Zezelj) Vertigo
    Locke and Key(Joe Hill/Gabriel Rodriguez) IDW Publishing
    The Girly Comic Book 1 (Ed, Selina Lock) Factor Fiction
    The New Avengers: Illuminati(Brian Bendis & Brian Reed/Jim Cheung) Marvel Comics

BEST ARTIST

    Dave McKean (The Graveyard Book) Bloomsbury
    Edward Miller (Vault of Deeds) PS Publishing
    Lee Thompson (The Land at the End of the Working Day) Humdrumming
    Les Edwards (Various)
    Vincent Chong (Various)

BEST NON-FICTION

    Basil Copper: A Life in Books (Basil Copper, Ed, Stephen Jones) PS Publishing
    Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale (Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook) BBC Books
    journal.neilgaiman.com (Neil Gaiman)
    Mutant Popcorn(Nick Lowe) Interzone – TTA Press
    What Is It We Do When We Read Science Fiction(Paul Kincaid) Beccon Publications

BEST MAGAZINE

    Black Static(Andy Cox) TTA Press
    Interzone(Andy Cox et. al.) TTA Press
    Midnight Street(Trevor Denyer)
    Postscripts(Peter Crowther & Nick Gevers) PS Publishing
    SFX (Dave Bradley) Future Publishing Limited

BEST TELEVISON

    Battlestar Galactica (NBC)
    Dead Set(Zeppotron/Channel 4)
    Dexter (Clyde Phillips Productions)
    Doctor Who (BBC Wales)
    Supernatural (Warner Bros TV)

BEST FILM

    Cloverfield (Matt Reeves)
    Iron Man(Jon Favreau)
    The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)
    The Mist(Frank Darabont)
    The Orphanage(Juan Antonio Bayona)
    (With thanks to SFWA for supplying the list.)

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What’s in a Name: Toilet Paper

The other day I went to Safeway to buy toilet paper. Yes, toilet paper; teepee, ass wipe, etc. Most people I know call it toilet paper. Don’t you?

Now I know that Canadians (or Americans, depending on perspective) have different or odd names for things. How many times did I get confused looks in Seattle when I asked for a washroom? “You mean to do laundry?” No, to go pee. Restroom, bathroom, water closet, WC. In past eras houses had two rooms, one with the toilet, the water closet (WC), and the tub in the other. They may have started first with wash basins and then moved to sinks. So…bathroom and washroom? Except that the room with the tub had the sink too. Friends of mine have renovated their old house to have a sink in each room.

So, we’ve established there’s some confusion on what to call the rooms that we get rid of waste and dirt in. But in Safeway, what do you suppose they call toilet paper in the row with paper towels and tissues? They call it bath tissues. Bath tissues.  Geeze. Am I supposed to get out of the bath or shower and do a cheap remake of the mummy, drying myself off on swaths of toilet paper? It would make the paper companies happy I’m sure. But then I’d be picking little bits off of my body and find leftovers in odd places and be sweeping it from the floor for a billion years, or until the next shower. 

Sure, one can argue that toilet paper isn’t any more accurate because you don’t wipe the toilet with it and it’s not paper. It’s finer than paper and tissue like. Toilet tissue? But you do drop it in the toilet. So maybe in the way that advertising never has, we should name things exactly for what they are. Crap catchers, bum wipes, crotch cleaners. Wouldn’t you love to see a Safeway aisle with those names. Slang does have its purpose.

Yet, such terms would be offensive to many, though probably get smiles from others. So we come up with the euphemism, bath tissues, as far away from toilet paper as possible yet all in the same room, the bathroom. Some new houses have gone back to those split rooms, finding it more convenient to have the shower/bath separated from the toilet. And many houses will have just a toilet (WC) off of the living room or kitchen.

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Little Words and Zed

I’ve worked many years as a copy editor and have a fairly good memory for spelling. It’s amazing really that we ever standardized the English language, if you take into account that there’s British English (BE), American English (AE) and the bastard child of both, Canadian English (CE). AE and CE say “synchronize” instead of “synchronise”, but BE and CE say “neighbour” instead of “neighbor” and “travelled” instead of “traveled.” There are a few other odd words such as “jewellery” vs “jewelry.” But mostly we can understand each other even if Canadians say “zed” and Americans, “zee.” I’m an adamant proponent of continuing the “zed” pronunciation (being Canadian) and when some little tads corrected me with saying, “It’s zee.” I pretty much bit my lip and corrected them since they’re Canadian. Alas the invasion continues.

So, is it any wonder that there are so many misspelled words considering that Shakespear spelled his name so many different ways? Of course ,a lot of this had to to with relative illiteracy of the era. If you didn’t write regularly, even if you knew the rudiments, you weren’t very likely to spell words correctly.

As an editor, sometimes words are so often misspelled the same way that I start to doubt my own senses and then I have to look up words that I know are spelled incorrectly. Here are a few words of the modern age that are misspelled frequently:

  • burgundy (not burgandy for color or wine)
  • indefinitely (not indefinately, received three times last week) if it’s not finite then it’s indefinite like infinity .
  • no one (not no-one nor noone; this might be different in England)
  • its (the most misused word ever: if it is blue, then it’s blue. If the ball belongs to it (the dog), then it (the ball) is its (the dog). Its ball rolled into traffic.
  • twenty, thirty-something (twenty-two not twenty two)
  • would of, could of: People say this: I could’ve gone to the store. (which should really just be “could have”) But because of the way we hear it, I’ve seen it spelled could of. Wrong wrong wrong. Could have. I’ve seen this in books, which tells me either the copy editor was inexperienced or the publisher didn’t have a copy editor.
  • yeah is an informal form of agreement (yes) and yay, which is a cheer: Yay! We win.

And then there are the similarly pronounced words that have different spellings and meanings, called homonyms. Some commonly misused ones are:

  • consul (a consul general or Canadian consul) and console (to sympathize with someone, or a panel or case that holds an item like electronics)
  • aisle (what is between two rows of bookshelves) and isle (where we all want to go for a tropical vacation)
  • altar (where we put our objects to worship) and alter (how we change our appearance to escape the law)
  • brooch (what you wear as a decoration) and broach (what you do when you want  to raise a subject)
  • complement (how many you have–a complement of soldiers) and compliment (to praise–my you look great in your uniform)
  • council (a group of people) and counsel (the adviser/counsellor you get when your marriage is on the rocks)
  • gorilla (these guys use bananas) and guerrilla (these guys use guns)

There are many homonyms and a very extensive list can be found here, even ones that I’ve never considered or known. http://www.cooper.com/alan/homonym_list.html

I find it particularly bad when I read books that have many misspellings but it all depends on how good the publishers are at maintaining quality and if they care. Many small publishing houses do not even have copy editors and depend on (demand) the authors proofread their work. Of course everyone should always do that and hand in relatively clean copies. Still, when you’re looking at a story over and over again you are bound to miss some of your own typos. A second set of eyes is always best.

I sometimes think the internet will work at crumbling the English language (maybe others too) as people abbreviate words down to essential letters. We tend to get lazy at writing, leaving off capitalization and punctuation. Part of the advent of computers for everyone meant that many people have them but probably not everyone learned to type. And like our signatures that get messier the more we write them, our grammar goes to pot on the internet.
But English is a living and therefore evolving language so maybe the misspellings will take over the more people use them. In the meantime, misuses and typos will continue to drive the editors of the world crazy.

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Double-Speak: A Rose by Any Other Name?

I don’t know when we decided to reword the English language to actually obfuscate what is really being said. Perhaps it’s been done through history. Obviously speeches and what’s written descriptions have definitely given different shades of truth, and as we know, history is written by the winner. The truth of history wavers between downright propaganda and lies, to the cold, hard unembellished facts. That means no adjectives like “horrendous, spectacular, brutal, amazing.” Just reporting what happened.

In this current world propaganda is more likely to be found than cold, hard truth, and everything in between is where most “truth” lies.

Once upon a time there were housewives. Now they’re domestic engineers but the term is dissolving back into housewife or the more popular stay-at-home mom (or dad). There used to be stewardesses, but now they’re airline attendants, which is more appropriate because there are men and women, though stewards for all would work fine. There used to be mailmen but now there are letter carriers. Changing terms for gender equality in the workplace is one thing, but then there is the world of politics and sensationalism.

The one that always drove me crazy, and still does, is collateral damage. So, what, it makes it better if we say that people weren’t blown to smithereens in a bombing but there was collateral damage from the bombing? Puhleese, it’s still dead people. Who cares about the buildings. We care about people and it could easily be reported as people killed and a building destroyed. And while we’re mentioning bombs, it’s now an improvised explosive device. Did homemade bomb no longer cover the fact that some are made in the field? Perhaps we should call them field improvised explosive devises, or we could just say bomb. Oh and there is also the incendiary roadside device.

Who thought of these things? Is there a think tank being paid comfy salaries to come up with “better” words for roadside bomb and land mine? More words, more syllables, is somehow better. Someone out there must think these terms are more accurate, or maybe they’re just more all-encompassing, therefore watering down the image of what really is happening.

It seems the areas where words take on longer, more sophisticated versions of themselves, is especially in the world of violence. War, bombing, terrorism, murder, rape. Oh yeah, rape. A person no longer rapes someone. They now sexually abuse them. Sexual abuse covers a larger range of issues, from butt pinching and fondling to brutal rape. Wait a minute. Brutal rape? Is any rape not brutal? Nope, but the media might say brutal rape. Maybe that’s why they went to “sexual abuse” as the term; to cut down on the colorful adjectives. But sorry to say, rape is rape, no matter how you word it.

I can’t help but see this double speak as some sort of attempt to be a polite society or to cover up the facts and keep people dumbed down. I’ve always been interested in language and etymology. I’m sure there are many more examples out there and maybe this is part of the era of political correctness but I fail to see what makes a longer description as more accurate. Sometimes a spade is just a spade.

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