Thursday, October 12, 2006

Another Tragedy, Another Miracle

Yesterday a small plane, apparently piloted by New York Yankee's pitcher Cory Lidle, crashed into the 30th floor of an apartment building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and fell, burning, to the pavement.

In the course of recounting the story this morning on NPR, a reporter hit both of my pet peeves about the use of language. While people first feared that the crash was a terrorist attack, the reporter intoned, it quickly turned into a story of "personal tragedy." Meanwhile, the two people who were in the apartment that was struck "miraculously" escaped unharmed.

Now, I don't want to downplay the fact that this was a horrible accident and that many people will be stricken with grief because of it. Still, there is not yet any reason to suppose that the circumstances surrounding the accident amount to a tragedy in the fullest meaning of the term - the remorseless working-out of a self-inflicted doom, and so on.

What really gets me in this case, though, is the utter trivialization of the term "miraculous". Yes, no doubt, the two in the apartment were very fortunate not to have been standing next to the windows just then. But in all likelihood they were able to walk out of the apartment and find their way safely down the stairs or to the elevators. At worst, they may have been carried out on strecthers by very brave, very competent emergency personnel who in no way violated any laws of nature in the process. In short, there is nothing particularly miraculous, or even particularly extraordinary, about their escape.

Had they spontaneously teleported out of the midst of the fireball and immediately appeared, unscathed, in the middle of the nearest Starbucks, that would have been a miraculous escape.

I suppose I'm overreacting, again. I can only say that I was primed for it by the fact that my local paper ran an article the other day about the degradation of another term: 'icon'. Once it referred to particularly powerful pieces of religious art, but now it includes pop-culture "personalities" including, according to some, Paris Hilton.

More evidence, I brooded, that we are facing the end of language as we know it. That would be double-plus-ungood. Quack quack.

I'll just keep on grindin' that axe.

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