2005-01-17

Tsunami Usage

This, from a BBC article entitled UN urges rapid action on poverty

"Every month, 150,000 children in Africa, if not more, are dying from the silent tsunami of malaria, a largely preventable and utterly treatable disease," he said.

Maybe it's just me, but I find this usage of tsunami wholly inappropriate, given recent events. Is it also just a coincidence that the number of malaria casualties is approximately equal to that of the tidal wave that hit Indonesia? The tsunami/malaria analogy on its own is awful, which leads me to believe the writer is trying to borrow credence for his topic from the tsunami tragedy. While the malaria deaths are also tragic, I don't think the author's usage here reflects good judgment or taste. But then, this is a BBC article.

3 Comments:

Blogger LO said...

At first I thought it was a journalist thing trying to get the reader's attention, but the declaration is attributed to Dr Jeffrey Sachs, former Harvard economist, so let's not blame the English (at least not BBC) on this one. But I totally agree. Really bad taste.

In Brazil, the press love similar comparison, things like: "Car accidents cause one Vietnam a year in Brazil". It's all about comparisons, I guess. It appeals to the reader.

10:29 AM  
Blogger The Neologiac Spooneristocrat said...

Yeah, I agree, it's in poor taste. I also find LO's Brazilian example bizarre. I've never seen a non-military quagmire or (more generally) disaster referred to as a "Vietnam." Somehow, using proper nouns in this way seems strange to me. If someone's a egregious liar, would I say "He's a real Nixon" ? I suppose I could say he's "pulling a Nixon," or things are "getting like Vietnam." Maybe I'm just too literal-minded and queasy about metaphorical extensions.

1:53 PM  
Blogger W1ll13 30% Hacker said...

This is interesting, LO and Neo-spoon, about Vietnaming. I suppose it must be related to the political and media interest of Vietnam, as I cannot imagine hearing "car accidents are a WWII or War of 1812 every year." What's even more interesting is that this usage would surface in Brasil.

On a separate note, it's hard to think of anything more dreadful and tragic than the genocide of 6,000,000 people killed during the Holocaust of WWII. While the word "holocaust" is of course much older than 1945 and has a meaning more general than just that of the Nazis, etc., this narrowed sense is what is normally associated with it. Yet, usage such as those below are quite common, only a generation or so after the fact.

The Drunk Driving Holocaust
Drug Companies 'Inflicting Holocaust On The Poor'

I would argue that these usage tendencies are more tasteless than the Vietnamed car wrecks of Brasil or Sachs's tsunami from the BBC article.

2:58 PM  

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