News Flash: Words Have Meaning

Slappy, Slap-Your-Hand Award, media coverage, news media, news outletsI have not handed out a Slappy award—my personal “slap your hand” to the news media for careless use of words — in quite a while. The recent events in Washington DC, brought it to my attention once again, though, and not just for misusing capital and Capitol. Or podium and lectern.

NOTE: I refuse to print the photos or the names of the rioters.

Allow me to explain.

Protesters / Rioters

It started with reporters almost universally referring to the rioters as “protesters.” That term might have been appropriate when they were marching to the Capitol but it ceased to apply the moment they broke through the crowd-control barriers. After that, they became rioters.

Rioter-Protester Scale, riot, protest, news media, words have meaningAs soon as we saw them breaking windows, charging the doors, and shoving past the Capital Police to enter a restricted-access building, they lost any legitimacy as peaceful protesters. Still, the press persisted reflexively in using this term for at least 24 hours. It almost seemed like herd mentality: as soon as one reporter used that word, the others picked it up and went with it. They used the same word when armed men invaded the Michigan State Capitol building.

Besides, this was a white supremacist / white Christian / white male crowd, so what else would the press call them? After all, they usually trot out words like “rioter,” “thug,” and “domestic terrorist” for people of color in the same way cops reserve the use of batons, guns, and tear gas for people protesting an extra-judicial murder.

Words Have Meaning

Once the media started using the right word (kudos for that), it became apparent that the DC law enforcement establishment had allowed trespassers, thieves, attempted kidnappers, and potential murderers to just leave the building and go home for dinner.

The FBI began trying to identify the perpetrators from the numerous videos and selfies the thugs had taken and published on social media. The effort hasn’t been difficult. Many wore identifying insignia and one idiot even had his work badge on a lanyard. He no longer works for that company.

Get Out of Jail Free card, words, MonopolyBecause, you see, words have meaning and actions have consequences even if you don’t really understand the crime you are committing. That applies even if you don’t end up on the winning side—particularly then. You can’t just say something like, “I got carried away in the moment,” of “I don’t even know how I got there,” and think that will score you a Get Out of Jail Free card.

Getting Away with it All

The white supremacist rioters came ready and prepared to fight but expected that, somehow, they would win. They thought their invasion of the Capitol, their destruction and theft, their threats to hang the Vice President of the United States, their attempt to take hostages, would get them what they wanted: to overthrow the election and enthrone their Dear Leader for another term. I would mention that our Constitution doesn’t work that way but, then, I don’t think they were really interested in the Constitution.

The rioters also clearly expected to get away with it all. Why? Perhaps they knew that some of the Capitol Police were on their side. Maybe they had been told that the Pentagon would delay sending backup. Or they might even have believed a victorious Donald Trump would pardon them. (Well, we have precedent for that.)

It must have been a shock to find out that some Americans would stand up to them and not all law enforcement had been corrupted. I wonder how many were surprised when they were arrested and taken away in handcuffs. Going from “patriot” to “perpetrator” must have taken quite a few of them aback.

Of course, these are the same idiots who follow QAnon because they don’t understand that it’s really just an Alternate Reality online game. They don’t even grasp that they are the ones being played. Can we really expect deep thinking?

Podium / Lectern

Capitol riot, wrecked furniture, destructionOne last thing about proper word use: If you can stand on it; it’s a podium: “a small platform on which a person may stand to be seen by an audience, as when making a speech or conducting an orchestra.”

If you stand behind it; it’s a lectern. Podium comes from the same word as “podiatry” and it refers to the foot. Get it?

So, we call it a lectern, even if a larcenous idiot is stealing it from the House of Representatives or trashing it in the hall. I give another Slappy to the press for too often not knowing the difference.

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About Aline Kaplan

Aline Kaplan is a published author, a blogger, and a tour guide in Boston. She formerly had a career as a high-tech marketing and communications director. Aline writes and edits The Next Phase Blog, a social commentary blog that appears multiple times a week at She has published over 1,000 posts on a variety of subjects, from Boston history to science fiction movies, astronomical events to art museums. Under the name Aline Boucher Kaplan, she has had two science fiction novels (Khyren and World Spirits) published by Baen Books. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published in the United States, Ireland, and Australia. She is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston and lives in Hudson, MA.

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