You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means…


It seems like every time I’ve turned on the news lately anytime the Iraq is mentioned the phrase “sectarian violence” follows. I’ve been paying attention to the news and media for a while now and I’ve never heard the phrase used with any kind of repetition in the past. I wasn’t totally sure what “sectarian” meant so I looked it up — fortunately I was pretty much on the money. However, if I was a member of the press I would think that I would be a little more creative and differentiate myself from the pack. Maybe I’d use “violence between religious factions” or “conflicts between differing racial and religious groups” or maybe even “some people that don’t quite see eye to eye.” Please pick anything just to be a little different.

The whole thing reminds me of the evolution of the pronunciation of Qatar. Before 2002 here in America, it was pronounced “kah-tahr” by everyone I ever heard on the news. Then it became something that sounded like “cutter” and now it’s something that sounds like “gutter”. Face it, as an American, we’ll probably never be able to pronounce it correctly so why not stick with the Americanize pronunciation “kah-tahr”? Where does it stop? Should we now say “Köln” rather than Cologne or “München” instead of Munich when talking about German cities?

And let’s not forget about my all-time favorite, “tarmac”. I don’t remember exactly when, but I think it became popular in the late 80’s after some Middle-Eastern nutjobs took an airliner hostage and dumped an American soldier out of the plane and on to the taxi way. The media breathlessly referred to this taxi way as “the tarmac”. In a rush to be the same, everybody began calling it “the tarmac” and it still persists today. Well, the reality is that “tarmac” refers to a kind of surface that is pretty much no longer in use today at any airport. I personally think members of the media use it to try and sound cool and appear smarter than us, their viewers.

I think it would be an interesting poll to see how many voters knew what “sectarian” or “tarmac” meant. Or how to pronounce Qatar or Ahmadinejad (the nutjob president of Iran.) Given how disconnected much of the public at large is, I think the results would be truly disappointing. Even more so because these word or phrases are heard almost daily yet I am fairly firm in my belief that most people would have no clue. An even more interesting poll would see what reporters knew about the things they are saying…

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Patrick Lawrence
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