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Language: strength and weakness

January 23, 2010

This is a short post influenced by this video, which I just watched.  Actually it’s just about one short quote; at about the midway point the talking guy mentions just how endangered Sumatran tigers are, and says that “their habitat is being lost and fragmented daily.”

I’m struck by his choice in wording.  Their habitat is being lost?  Technically his use of the word isn’t incorrect, but I don’t feel like it does a very good job (at all) of conveying what is actually going on.  The Sumatran tigers’ habitat isn’t like a set of keys or a remote control; it isn’t something that we can just misplace and then go, “Where is the damn thing?  Did I lose it?”

There are so many words that would have made better choices.  Here are two: stolen, destroyed.  Some might say the land is being “converted for human use.”  The fact is, the land hasn’t disappeared and it’s not going anywhere—but it isn’t suitable for tigers anymore.  Why be coy about what is going on?  If you really want to save the tigers you have to do so by saving their habitat, and I don’t think you can do that if you aren’t honest about what is actually happening to it.

Trees are falling so crops can replace them in the soil that remains.  We need that land so we can grow more food; we need that food so we can grow more people. Cutting down the trees alone doesn’t mean the tigers will disappear forever, but an amazing thing happens when habitat is “lost” to agriculture: everyone who used to live there is now a pest, and pests are open to extermination.  Why do you think ranchers shoot wolves?  (As I quoted in a post quite a while ago, wolves “break the rules” and because of that they can “expect to die.”)

Using these weak, vague words is only a favor to those profiting from the habitat “loss.”  It’s certainly not a favor to the tigers.

Tell it like it is.

One Comment leave one →
  1. uncommonscolds permalink
    March 26, 2010 10:20 am

    Excellent observation. “Lost” is indeed a euphemism.


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