Archives for category: semantics

Caught a few moments of Scott Adams, on Periscope last night. He explained why calling terrorists such as yesterday’s New York pedestrian killer “cowards” is “not very good persuasion.” Mayor Bill de Blasio just did that, as GWB had in mid-September 2001.

Adams is of course right. “Coward” is inapposite. It makes no inroads into the belief system of would-be terrorists, surely the rhetorical target. As I explained, years ago, in defense of Bill “Politically Incorrect” Maher’s infamous ridicule of Bush’s “faceless cowards” designation, the cowardice charge is weak-minded and pathetic.

A better insult — better even than Trump’s “losers” epithet — would attack the terrorists’ faith and efficacy.

Adams suggests “burning in hell.”

A spin on that might be:

“Damned raisin-eaters.”

You see why, right?

twv

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A local theater is advertising a special night for fans of an upcoming movie. In the deal “concessions” are included.

What a bizarre use of the word. The theater managers seem to think concessions means food and drink.

Though it is not specifically so listed in my dictionary (nearest at hand), I am fairly certain that the etymology runs like this:

In certain venues, the owner/manager would subcontract out the food and drink, as in a caterer — or in the case I grew up with (and with which most folks would find familiar) the school would cede, on game nights, the “refreshments stand” to be run by a school club, for the profit of the club as a fundraiser.

Thus the word concession refers to “a right to undertake and profit by a specified activity a concession to drill for oil : a lease of a portion of premises for a particular purpose; also : the portion leased or the activities carried on. . . .”

In my high school’s case, the band would be granted a concession to profit selling goodies for one event, the home-ec club the next, and so on. Concession thus serves as a term of art within the business ambit of management and volunteers of a kind of service at an event and location.

It does not have any legitimate place in consumer lingo. It makes no logical sense, at least, to apply the word like this, to extend the meaning in this way.

But since kids deal with “concessions” in school, when they grow up and find themselves managing movie theaters, they infer that “concessions” is a reasonable name for a refreshments stand wherein goodies are sold. But it makes no sense in the movie theater for the simple reason that the stand is run by the management, not by a contracting third party, a “concessionaire.”

Thus the language changes, with semantic drift, by the inattention and slovenliness of the speakers. And copywriters.

(This has been a very low-level pet peeve of mine for decades, I . . . concede!)

twv

img_0050Yesterday, in my first assay into the definition of “mass shooting,” I stopped short of the real oddity of the term, which I was surprised to find nearly everywhere online — the all-too-common assertion that such shootings happen every day in America.

Every day? Really?

When you drill down, you discover that the term has been wrenched away from its original purpose to describe scenarios where one or two or a handful of persons massacre strangers in public, to include gangland turf war murders and much more.

So, what are the definitions? Well, there is some fluidity to the meanings, of course. But we can get some mostly reliable ideas about what these terms of art mean in rigorous usage. The concept of “mass murder” is now defined like this:

The FBI defines mass murder as murdering four or more persons during an event with no “cooling-off period” between the murders. A mass murder typically occurs in a single location where one or more people kill several others. Many acts of mass murder end with the perpetrator(s) dying by suicide or suicide by cop.

Princeton’s Wordnet puts a number of words together:

slaughter, massacre, mass murder, carnage, butchery (noun)
the savage and excessive killing of many people

“Excessive” strikes me as begging an uncomfortable question about what the right number of people to be killed might be.

Now, “mass shooting” is a subset of mass murder, obviously:

mass shooting is an incident involving multiple victims of firearms-related violence. The United States’ Congressional Research Service acknowledges that there is not a broadly accepted definition, and defines a “public mass shooting” as one in which four or more people selected indiscriminately, not including the perpetrator, are killed, echoing the FBI definition of the term “mass murder.” Another unofficial definition of a mass shooting is an event involving the shooting (not necessarily resulting in death) of four or more people with no cooling-off period. Related terms include school shooting and massacre.

Several of the constituent terms in these definitions are contestable, expecially the concept of “indiscriminate selection.” Really? On some level, most mass shooting victim groups are targeted for very clear reasons. The Pulse nightclub shooting, for instance. It was not accidental or random: a gay nightclub was the perfect target for a radicalized Muslim lowlife. Same with the Dylan Roof’s attack upon a church, whose racism was a key factor. Or the more recent case of a black Muslim who shot up Christians at a white church.

In all of these cases, the groups were selected for their representative nature, as embodying the focus for some grievance.

Of course, what we are seeing is preference on one level (the group, with definitions of groups as all-important) and indifference on another (the individuals, indiscriminately selected). A similar distinction must be made in the pure theory of choice, where preference is the usual rule of choice, but indifferent selection can occur among things of equal value to the chooser. (The latter concept explains why Buridan’s ass is more of a joke than a real philosophical puzzle. Even asses assess options using indifferent selection to avoid preference paradoxes.)

A better definition seems to come from a study covered by CNN in late 2016:

Between 1966 and 2012, there were 90 mass shootings in the United States. Mass shootings are defined for the study as having four or more victims and don’t include gang killings or slayings that involve the death of multiple family members. These shootings include the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in June 2016 — the worst mass shooting in US history — and others in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, both in 2012.

Note that in under half a century there were 90 such events, about two per year. Currently, however, major newspapers are claiming that there is a mass shooting every day. Take the infamous fake news outlet, The New York Times:

More than one a day.

That is how often, on average, shootings that left four or more people wounded or dead occurred in the United States this year, according to compilations of episodes derived from news reports.

So ask yourself: if the secular trend for murder and gun violence is down, how can mass shootings be up? Have interpersonal shootings gone down so much that they offset the dramatic growth in mass shootings?

IMG_4096Seems unlikely. The key is the nature of the study the Times cites: “compilations of episodes derived from news reports.” They are not throwing out family killings and gang and drug-war related shootings. They are counting everything above a mere three victims.

This is probably to sell papers. If crime is generally down, how can you pitch panic?

So the Times and other mainstream media sources try to make things look like they are worse than they are.

Now, I do not want to suggest that gang warfare killings in, say, Chicago are not a real problem. They are. Indeed, they tell us a great many things relevant to crime fighting and gun control as political topics. But they are are far afield from terroristic, vindictive, and spree murder events. Including them may make a jump in the rate of mass shootings per day to skyrocket from 2/365 to 1/1, but this is hardly responsible journalism.

And there is no great mystery behind this. In addition to selling papers, it is obviously in service to an ideological agenda orthogonal to the truth.

twv

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