It's bloody sloppy: carnage and damage

Heard last night while dozing through yet another fly-on-the-wall cop-doc:

Despite the carnage he caused no one was seriously hurt

Ouch! Carnage, as any working hack should know, means widespread slaughter (indeed the word's roots can be traced back to the Latin for flesh). You can't cause carnage without killing people; the miscreant in this case had merely smashed up a few cars while being chased by the police, so what he caused was damage, not carnage.

Is it me, or is this kind of sloppy English becoming the norm as an increasing number of TV stations seek to fill our waking hours with low-rent programming?


Gez said...

You are right. I get really mad about things like this, probably disproportionally so. Worse than general ignorance caused by misuse, there is a school of thought that states if enough people use the word incorrectly, the meaning is changed. Yeah, I mean you, language hat.

goofy said...

I'd agree that's not the usual meaning of carnage. However... "indeed the word's roots can be traced back to the Latin for flesh" is an appeal to etymology.

Yes, if enough people use a word with a variant meaning, then the meaning is changed. The users of the language make the rules. Unless there is some higher authority than the native speakers of the language.

TootsNYC said...

I figure, when the meaning of a word changes, I want to be a late adopter. And I want my publication to be, as well.

I think the using of "carnage" to mean "a big mess" but not necessarily "a bloody, painful mess" (and I mean that "bloody" the AmE way) comes from a desire to make things sound dramatic.

We want to speak strongly, to have an impact! and IMPACT! (in short, we want to matter)

And so we use "literally" to mean "metaphorically, but in a strong sense."

And people say "it looked like a war zone" when a tornado comes through

And writers (and Geraldo Rivera) use the phrase "all hell broke out" when really it's not even all that loud or angry.

So many people are desperate to MATTER that they are shouting--metaphorically and occasionally literally.

They do not believe anyone will notice them, or will have an emotional reaction to the (or, indeed, ANY reaction to them) unless they "shout."

The Ridger, FCD said...

Yes, print should be a late adopter. But it shouldn't hold out for centuries, either. (Words do in fact change their meanings, it's the way language works.)

JD said...

I agree with Goofy that 'if enough people use a word with a variant meaning, then the meaning is changed', but I don't think that 'carnage' has reached that tipping point – TV programmes (and publications) run the risk of irritating/alienating their viewers/readers unless they are (relatively) late adopters of language change.