Cowardly, sad and humbled

The worst abuse of language is dishonest use.

I don’t get too worked up about typos and shortcuts, though I do judge those who write it’s when it’s its. But what really gets me angry is dishonest choice of words.

“This was a cowardly act” said Barack Obama after the Boston Marathon bombing. “It’s a very cowardly act” said the police after a murder on the streets of Toronto. Boko Haram kidnapping Nigerian girls is “cowardly and pathetic”, said John Baird. The « cowardly execution » of a drug dealer gets a man life in prison. “Canada condemns in the strongest possible terms this deplorable and cowardly act” says a federal spokesperson.

These people do not mean cowardly. They say cowardly to try to humiliate the other. Cowardly is to lack courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things, to be weak, meek, shamefully fearful. Does not apply to the above uses. Call it criminal, malicious, evil, but don’t play the other’s game by saying he had too little testosterone. I don’t think that was the problem at all …

Recently a family called on a “cowardly” hit-and-run driver to turn himself in – that is likely what they meant and so it was proper usage.

And if we are calling out cowards, let us at least use it on those who use torture, and who, like Stephen Harper, would accept to use ‘information’ obtained under torture.

I think it’s sad I’m 25 and look younger than some of these 20-year-olds, tweeted the silly woman.

I think it’s sad he felt he had to do that, said the athlete about his attacker.

I think it’s sad my parents don’t know what LOL or OMG mean, wrote the disingenuous teen.

It’s sad that it’s considered a waste of time to cultivate relationships, said Mark Zuckerberg defending Facebook.

I think it’s sad that the rooms are so basic, wrote a tourist on a hotel review site.

I think it’s sad she’s desperate for more attention and that people are giving it to her, said the spitting starlet about her perceived rival.

I think it’s sad that I have to use my non apple device to post this question, said the disappointed consumer after an IOS ‘upgrade’.

Saying it’s “sad” when you can’t safely insult or put down is a recent phenomenon. It is a passive aggressive alternative to attacking, mocking or gloating. It is used instead of calling the other pitiful or contemptible – instead of speaking one’s mind.

When Barack Obama said he was « deeply humbled » to receive the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, I thought the only way he can actually mean humbled is if he believes the Nobel Committee was mocking him, since he was at the time escalating the war on Afghans. But no, he is another one who is arrogantly indulging in “humble” sublimation.

I am humbled – said by every recipient of the Order of Canada, beaming at the camera.

I’m very humbled and grateful to be honored with this award – Peyton Manning.

How humbling it was for me to be in that company, in that conversation. So I have to say, for me, it’s a humbling experience. – Kathryn Bigelow about winning an Oscar.

Not one of them meant to say “not proud” or “modest”, the definition of humble.

I predict the next iteration of this nonsense will be “I am so proud of how humble I am”.

As Albert Camus wrote: ‘Mal nommer les choses, c’est ajouter au malheur du monde’ (To name things wrongly is to add to the misfortune of the world).


January 1, 2015: And another thing: the seriously disturbing trend of the hostile apology.

“I’m sorry you feel that way”. Meaning: « I’m OK, your reaction is inappropriate ». « I’m actually not sorry and I am laughing at you.”

“I’m sorry if I offended anyone.” Meaning “I’m sorry you are the kind of weirdo who is offended by what I said, for which I do not apologize.” “Wink wink nudge nudge, this is me saying something, you know how people are these days.”

Why apologize? You do not have to apologize if you don’t want to. Forget the macho credo “Never apologize, never explain”. Forget the perceived need to apologize to be politically correct. If you don’t feel it, if you don’t get it, don’t say it, don’t pretend to say it.

You could always pull a Sheldon Cooper. Some of my favourites:

“I’m sorry you’re stupid.”

“We may have gotten off on the wrong foot when I called you an idiot. And I just wanted to say that I was wrong, to point it out.”

“I apologized! And that was hard for me! Because I didn’t do anything wrong!!”


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