Sunday, August 06, 2017

Better Word Needed

When I was a college English major back in the murky mists of the 20th century, I took a course titled "Advanced Expository Writing." It was a demanding class that required a weekly submission of an 800-word typewritten essay in an assigned category.

Father Bede, the veteran professor who taught this course, was an onerous taskmaster. One spelling or typographical error equaled a ten-point deduction--and 70% was a passing grade. A student learned to be very careful very quickly in preparing assignments for Advanced Expository Writing.

The professor had his own customized style sheet for corrections and comments, one that made a copy editor's marks sheet seem simplistic. This lengthy reference document was distributed to all students on the first day of class to enable us to decipher his entries on our graded papers. One of his favored mark-ups, at least in my experience, was "BWN"--better word needed. I received numerous "BWN" notations over my questionable word choices until I learned to be very cautious and think critically about the adjective/adverb I was choosing.

Today I often remember Fr. Bede's exacting requirements as I read or listen to (what passes for) news reports. There are several words that are used endlessly by the media that could use BWN corrections. Two of my pet peeves are "chaos" and "desperate," both overused by all news outlets to a nauseating and very tiring degree.

According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, "chaos" primarily defines the "confused unorganized state of primordial matter before the creation of distinct forms," or secondarily "the inherent unpredictability in the behavior of a complex natural system...." The third definition of chaos is "a state of utter confusion" or "a confused mass or mixture." This last (least emphasized) meaning has more relevance to current events, but not every day, in every situation, regarding every person or event in the current president's administration. Someone being fired, a vote failing, a change in policy, a few Tweets at dawn, are all automatically described as "chaos." This is lazy writing at best and deliberate misrepresentation at worst. "Chaos?" BWN.

As for "desperate," that word is defined as "having lost hope," "moved by despair," "involving...extreme measures in an attempt to escape defeat or frustration," "suffering extreme need or anxiety," "involving extreme danger or possible disaster," or "of extreme intensity." Everything being reported from the nation's capital, it seems, is a "desperate" attempt--to get votes, to limit an investigation, to shore up support, to change the subject. It's exhausting. It's also enough to cause one to lose hope and be moved by despair. "Desperate?" Stop being so dramatic. BWN.

In my own desperate attempts to avoid the chaos of today's daily media meltdowns, I've taken to avoiding television network newscasts and all major newspapers. "Disconnected?" If a better word is needed, it might be "bored."