Jacoby’s American Unreason

In The Age of American Unreason, Susan Jacoby writes about the debasement of the nation’s speech, the blurring of clarity, and intellectual discrimination. This book, her eighth, is scholarly and well-reasoned with fitting examples of fuzzy language. I knew I’d agree with her premise but I didn’t expect the book to be funny. As important as her points are, this isn’t a hard book to slog through. Instead it’s witty and gives one food for thought. I’ve only just begun reading but had to tell you about it. One example:

“Consider the near-universal substitution, by the media and politicians, of “troop” and “troops” for “soldier” and “soldiers.” As every dictionary makes plain, the word “troop” is always a collective noun; the “s” is added when referring to a particularly large military force. Yet each night on the television news, correspondents report that “X troops were killed in Iraq today.” This is more than a grammatical error; turning a soldier—an individual with whom one may identify—into an anonymous-sounding troop encourages the public to think about war and its casualties in a more abstract way. Who lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Troop?”

2 Comments

  • Rachel
    March 11, 2008 - 8:51 am | Permalink

    I followed your post from the Oregon SCBWI listserv. Great idea for a blog. I’ll be back!

  • Anonymous
    March 11, 2008 - 5:02 pm | Permalink

    I object every time I hear the word “troop” to describe a soldier who’s been killed. This soldier is a person who is a son, husband, daughter, father, wife or mother. Is their death more acceptable to us if we de-personalize them with “troop”?.
    Susan Jacoby is absolutely right about the way we clean up words to sanitize something that’s horrific. My least favorite example of this is “ethnic cleansing”. Make no mistake about it, it means killing people. But “ethnic cleansing” is the tidy way of referring to it on the evening news.

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