Zhaba Zhournal
Thursday, August 28, 2003 
The importance of word choice 
From yesterday's New York Times, in the article Two Former Priests Moved by a Massachusetts Prison: discussion of how inmates in protective custody should be kept away from other inmates who are likely to, say, kill them. Which makes sense, and which I'm not debating; I just want to call attention to these paragraphs:
Professor Austin, an expert on classifying inmates, said the two [pedophile Geoghan and the neo-Nazi homophobe who killed him] should not have been in the same protective custody unit. But he added that assigning inmates to avoid confrontations has become the "No. 1 topic of conversation" among prison administrators as a result of mistakes that led to serious injuries and killings...

After serious incidents, several states, have installed computer systems to ensure that inmates who are natural enemies are not assigned to the same unit, he said.
Um..."natural enemies"? I've only heard that term used to describe animals—"the cobra and the mongoose are natural enemies," "use natural enemies like assassin beetles to fight insect pests," and the like. I'm not going to get into a discussion of whether equating prison inmates with animals is appropriate in the grand scheme of things; only that it's not appropriate in a non–op-ed article in one of the nation's leading newspapers. (Since the sentence ends with "he said," it could be inferred that the term is the one used by the professor; but if so, I'd have put it in quotation marks to make it very clear that that was the case.) Personally, I'd have gone with "inmates who are likely to pose a danger to each other," or—as an op-ed piece in the Times today did—inmates with "perceived antipathies." No, that's not as dramatic; but drama and loaded language have no place in a news article.

[ at 11:58 AM • by Abby • permalink  ]

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