If there is one thing you learn working as a journalist, it’s that words matter. More specifically, using them correctly matters. Use a word incorrectly and the wrath of readers will fall upon you. Well, the wrath of older readers will fall upon you. Younger readers, suckled on the deformed version of the English language created by text messaging , wouldn’t notice. I loathe texting for several reasons, including that I find it hard to respect any message written using only your thumbs. But mostly it’s the abuse of language it’s spawned. It’s YOU ARE, not U R. And whoever invented “LOL” should be punished in the depths of Hades for a long time.
But I digress. The misuse of words rightly brings forth the angry fist of readers and editors. Peter Bailey, the former editorial page editor at the Standard, drummed this into my skull like a drill sergeant. His biggest peeve was probably the word “hopefully”. It means, literally, “full of hope” and it’s misplacement in sentences used to drive him nuts. If you wrote “The snow will stop hopefully” instead of “Hopefully, the snow will so stop”, he went all Incredible Hulk on you, in his mild mannered way of course.
“So that means, ‘The snow will stop full of hope!’” he would say. “It’s wrong!” And we would giggle that ole’ Pete was getting bent out of shape over something silly.
[EDIT: Pete informs me that in either case, "hopefully" is used incorrectly. Apparently, it's a word of little actual use. ]
Oh how right Peter was. He could smell what the Rock was cooking and that, eventually, I’d figure it out too. Which is why the phrase “blood libel” sent my brain into a full maelstrom of venting today.
The always grammatically challenged Sarah Palin shot back today at those blaming her for the recent shooting of an Arizona Congresswomen by a mentally ill man. People want to blame Palin for it because of her low brow, emotionally charged yet totally empty political rhetoric. Look, I understand. The Sarah Palins and Glenn Becks of the universe are annoying as all get out. Their rhetoric is largely moronic, their lack of actual ideas is embarrassing and their inability to cope with facts – that little thing I like to call reality – is nothing short of atrocious. But to blame Palin and her stupid pronouncements for the shooting is as wrong as the BeeGees at a Hendrix tribute concert.
Still, when Palin had a chance to explain her side of things and maybe cool the fires of stupidity raging around the world since the shooting, she blew it. Right from the start she blew it by simply blasting napalm all over the place, and in the process, committed another sin against the English language.
She accused the media of starting a “blood libel” by suggesting her rhetoric was to blame. I suppose she, or her speech writers, figured that sounded really good. It’s not just regular old libel, its BLOOD LIBEL! Dun dun duuuuh! It’s like a blood feud, only you can settle it in civil court!
Sadly, blood libel isn’t a phrase that describes libel that is meaner than usual.
Blood libel is a particularly insidious, anti-Semitic Christian idea that goes back centuries. It was the myth that Jews would sneak into the homes of Christians on Passover, steal their children and drink their blood. It is one of the most awful anti-Jewish bits of stupid that exist and was used as a justification for lynching Jews in Europe in the Middle Ages. It still has a cultural sting to Jewish people today. That is what blood libel means. It has no other meaning and no other context.
Thankfully, it has, outside of racist circles, fallen out of use. But every now and again, you’ll hear some malcontent without a cause bring it up, usually along with a Zionist world government and other idiotic conspiracy theories.
But for Palin to use it is, well, amazing. She has speech writers I assume. Someone who might actually know what words mean if she doesn’t. I mean, taken in context, her use of the phrase would mean that it’s journalists drinking the blood of kidnapped Christian children. Nice going, Palin.
As the kids today would say: “Epic Fail.”
ps. If Peter is reading, I am sure he will find any mistakes I made in this blog post. Expect edits.