04 March 2019

"... there are some juveniles involved in the fatality situation..."

I heard that phrase while listening this morning to television coverage of the outbreak of tornados in Alabama.  Public officials often revert to a special cant when speaking publicly, and I fully understand that for law enforcement officials in particular there are legal constraints on what they can say and how they phrase their announcements.

But this one seems particularly convoluted.  "Some juveniles involved in the fatality situation" translates to "some children/juveniles* died" or "some children were killed."   Why can't the statement be offered in the simpler form?  Is it considered too harsh for the ears of the public?

I'm not trying to be coy or sassy here - just don't understand if "being involved in a fatality situation" is standard for some reason, or was this just one person's concoction?

* apparently a child is defined as under age 14, and a juvenile as age 14-17


  1. 21st century "go-gently" argot so as not to offend millennial sensitivity. It's like saying that a person killed while fighting a forest fire "suffered a fatality event during a severe thermal incident", instead of "The guy was roasted".

    1. Enough with the "millennial sensitivity" trope. It's lame and it's tired. This kind of language has been standard in the military for a century -- and the military is not noted for its sensitivities.

  2. Privacy concerns mostly. They need to identify the victims and notify family/next of kin. The guy talking is also a human in a high-stress and tragic situation, so I'd cut him some slack for his word choice.

  3. At the cultural center, we seek language that offends the least number of people, as opposed to language that illuminates. Evidence of cultural decline.

  4. Is it possible that some organizations are trying to ease the terror that children must feel in such a situation? (And tornadoes are so terrifyingly random.) Hearing that other children died could increase the fear and trauma kids are already feeling--using language that adults would understand but children would not could help.

  5. I'm going to say it's the same as sophomore essays.
    More/bigger words make me look smart.

  6. Speaking of controlling language, this excerpt from an article about arming teachers in rural schools in the Rust Belt is incredibly depressing:

    The training encourages this result. Everything about its vocabulary is designed to dehumanize our aim. The instructors’ military language—“soft targets” and “areas of operation” for schools, “threats” for shooters, “tactical equipment” for guns—rubs off. On the final day, a pep talk analogizes students with lambs. We are the sheepdogs, charged with protecting them from the wolves.

    I am aware that this is changing my way of thinking. I enjoy how I feel. It is a potent energy, a righteous virtue that seems completely earned. The training reassures me of my decision-making ability.

    The other recruits are undergoing the same shift. During downtime we discuss guns: which we plan to buy next, what ammo our districts will provide us, and how that ammo impacts a body. We have become gun nuts almost overnight.


  7. I don't know if the intent was to shield children who might be listening to the radio, but there have been a few times recently that I wish that NPR was a little more convoluted when my kids were around. It was a few years ago, my son about age 5, asked me "what is rape" when he heard it on the radio (NPR morning edition, my alarm clock). I explained it was violence against women after pausing a bit.

    (I also agree, it is sophomoric protocol to use big words to sound smart).

  8. It strikes me as a way for the speaker to create emotional distance. It can't be easy for someone to talk about dead children; using somewhat stilted language might simply be less emotionally taxing. Related, this sort of formal phrasing is something you see a lot in cops, a habit they acquire in part because of the way they write incident reports..."I was approached by an individual" rather than "A guy walked up to me," for example.


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