women and children

“Women and children” is an old pairing of words that people who speak into microphones (politicians, TV journalists, etc.) still use all the time, usually in sentences like this: “The violence killed 34 people, including women and children.”

The idea is: It’s worse to kill women and children than it is to kill men.

You can almost understand the children part. Children don’t really stand a chance in battle. It’s not very sporting to attack people who can’t defend themselves. But women, too? Women, some of whom know how to operate tanks? They’ll probably put up a decent fight.

Women are often victims of violence at the hands of men — men who are usually bigger and stronger than they are. That’s terrible, obviously, and (as mentioned above) not very sporting on the part of the attackers.

But if you are in the habit of saying “women and children,” it will be easier for you to think of women and children as a single category of people — separate from men — whose common characteristic is helplessness. Oh, and it might make you a little more comfortable with the indiscriminate killing of men. Everyone loses!

It’s important to choose your words carefully.

beauty

“Beauty” has more definitions than we can list here. Sometimes it describes a thing that is nice to look at, like a battered envelope with a letter in it, a hand when you need one, or the way some people’s eyes crinkle when they smile. Other times, we use it as a synonym for “wonderful.”

Lots of things are beautiful: Breakfast tacos, the ocean, your favorite song, remembering where you put your keys, the planet Saturn, the people you love, the moment right before you solve a puzzle, the good kind of silence, a fresh coat of paint. We haven’t even made a dent in the list.

Strangely, we also hear the word “beauty” a lot whenever a group of young women shows up on live television and invites a panel of judges to decide which one of them is closest to perfect according to a very narrow set of aesthetic standards.

We’d never use it that way. But you go ahead, if it feels right to you.

truth

Truth is a thing happens or exists. There are all kinds of people who will tell you they know the truth about stuff, and most of them will probably get sick of answering your questions after three or four minutes.

But then every so often you run across a group of “truth”-obsessed people who like questions even more than you do. Like if there is a terrorist attack in their country, they start asking things like “How do we know it wasn’t our own government pretending to be terrorists?”

These folks like questions. We like questions, too. That’s something we have in common.

But sometimes when you ask a lot of questions, you get very clear, consistent, verifiable answers from a number of independent sources.

The whole reason to ask questions in the first place is to get answers like that — answers supported by math and chemistry and videos and police reports. Get enough answers like that and you’ll have something approaching the truth. Maybe you’ll decide to use your questioning energy on something nobody knows yet. Uncover a real scandal. Make history.

enhanced

Enhanced means better. Interrogation means asking, somewhat aggressively, a lot of questions. So “enhanced interrogation” must be even better than regular interrogation, right?

Well, maybe. It sort of depends on your definition of “better.”

“Enhanced interrogation” means inflicting extreme physical or emotional pain on someone because you think they know something you want to know. It’s interrogation with extra violence. As such, it’s also a euphemism for torture.

Changing the name of something doesn’t change what it is. If you suffocate a person over and over again, you’re inflicting extreme physical and emotional pain on that person. You can call it whatever you want, just like I could call breaking into your house and confiscating everything worth more than eight dollars “enhanced tax collection.”

A government agency could kick you in the teeth and call it “enhanced dentistry” or cut off all your fingers and store them in jars at NSA headquarters and call it “enhanced fingerprinting,” but it wouldn’t fool anyone for long.

listen to yourself: it is what it is

Oh, no. No. Please. Not this. Don’t say this. Please?

Look, we’ve said it before: We don’t care what you say. Not really. Not if you’re paying attention and doing your best to communicate clearly. We won’t give you a hard time if you don’t know the difference between a dangling modifier and an independent clause. We’re not like that.

But sometimes you talk like a person who isn’t thinking and that makes us sad because we like you. That’s why we need you to stop saying “It is what it is.”

Stop it right now.

The expression, “It is what it is,” has come to mean something like, “There’s nothing anyone can do to change this.” It’s like shrugging or sighing, except you say a bunch of words without thinking about what they mean.

“It is what it is.” Yes. Of course it is. Everything is what it is. Nothing is what it isn’t or isn’t what it is. In logic, mindless garbage like this is called circular reasoning. Here at Wordmonster, we call it talking because you didn’t take a second to think about what you wanted to say.