Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Linguistic Patrol Once Again: Nuking Meaning

(Or whatever it was I used to call it.)

Some abuses of the language -- of plain sense -- are so egregious that, like the old firehorse responding one more time to the bell, I just gotta pull on the hip-boots, fire up the flamb├ęthrower, get out the killing tweezers and go after them.

Such would be the case with a month-old, breathless bit of self-panicking from NDJworld: Fukishima Leaking Again.

It starts in a way that makes me itchy, "A new radioactive leak has been discovered..." Umm, how's that? The leak itself is radioactive, or is there radioactive material that is leaking? And just what is it? Steam? Water? Harsh looks? Molten lead?

Damifino and the next para. is no help; we're told Tepco "announced the radiation leak" and that it is "another radiation leak." Alpha, beta, gamma, hard X-rays, a big, glow-y dinosaur, what?

Who knows; the troubled site's previous history of "radioactive clouds" and "radioactive water" leaks is mentioned (and it's no joking matter, a massive mess), but nary a clue as to the nature of the February leak; for all the reader can tell, it could be strawberry jam.

"Reportedly, enough radiation leaked into the air to cause radiation sickness," avers the article. No! Wrong! It might be enough radioactive something, or even something radioactive enough, but radiation itself would just...radiate. Like light from a shaded lamp, or X-rays from the machine in a dentist's office, it travels in a straight line. It would hurt you only if you got in the path of the radiation, or if it was so terribly strong it was amping up the air as it passed by. (Hint: highly unlikely.) It would not be "leaking" as most of us understand leaks.

But wait! There's more! You can relax, because "...no one was exposed to the deadly toxin." Aaaaargh! No, no, nooooooooo! It's bad stuff, but not a "toxin." Toxin is a very well-defined word. Toxins are produced within living organisms. While you could argue that the Fukishima reactors have behaved with a degree of perversity somewhat akin to a living organism, they are not alive; they're lumps of metal and concrete, huge tanks and pools and, yes, leaks of water, and some of what comes out are poisons.

Is getting it right really too much to ask?


greg said...

Yup...I've worked in Nuclear Power as a Radiological Controls Technician/Manager for 18 years now, and I can't stand reading about it in news articles.

Drang said...

Was that a rhetorical question?

Bubblehead Les. said...

Just be glad they weren't trying to explain the differences between Rad, Rem, Grey and Sieverts.

Sendarius said...

Is getting it right really too much to ask?

Apparently, yes.

Still, it IS fun to warn someone that you have an item that is so radioactive that it GLOWS IN THE DARK - then wave your wrist-watch under their nose, and watch the hysterics.

Anonymous said...

Getting ANYTHING about nuclear power, electrical power generation, solid state physics (and chip design), etc is too much for the liberal arts majors who write the news.

I've gotten into more than one debate with paniced liberal arts majors surrounding Fukushima, and in the end I had to sigh and say "OK, this isn't going to sound nice, but the truth is, you're too ignorant to understand what I'm about to explain to you.... so we're going to do this only once, and then you can go panic and I can say that I tried."

When they can't even understand the difference between Sieverts and Bequerels... and don't want to be bothered with the difference... there's no hope of them ever getting anything remotely correct.

Blackwing1 said...

Let's see:

- Toxins are poisonous, and
- Poisons can be toxic

Should we be sounding a tocsin?

Ritchie said...

In the words of the song, they don't have to be clear. But the hair is perfect.

rickn8or said...

Roberta, you have to remember these are the same people who write ".9mm", "armor-piercing holow-points", and "assault clips".

Robin said...

The stupidity of the news reporting on Fukushima cannot be exaggerated, sadly.

Anonymous said...

This is on a par with poisonous snakes. Snakes are not poisonous, some are venomous.

@rickn8or And the shoulder goes up thing.

jed said...

> But the hair is perfect.

You saw a werewolf doing a live report on the telly?

Literacy is fast going away. I deal with it all the time. Just use some word that you heard or saw someplace, which you think you know the meaning of. This is a positive feedback loop, and I have mostly grown tired of beating my head against that particular wall. Try to correct and explain? You're just being mean, you know? I know far too many people who really don't want to know what various specific words really mean.


Stretch said...

"I can explain it to you but I can't understand it for you."

Saw that on the webs and knew I'd have a use for it someday.