Thursday, November 19, 2009

Understanding Tragedy

Here's a meme I've seen a lot lately. It's expresser here in a comment about Eric Holder's Senate testimony:

The "tragic shooting" at Ft. Hood. What happened at Ft. Hood was a jihadist massacre — a terrorist act, not a tragedy.

I think I get the point (or do I?). Tragedy is foreordained--events combining in inevitable but horrible ways to bring about disaster, even though good people may be behind them. So some guy going off on a shooting spree is an event that maybe could have been prevented, certainly didn't have to happen, and doesn't rise to ennobled, tragic heights.

But that's just one meaning of tragedy, and a pretty specific one. The word is generally used to mean something like this:

A disastrous event, especially one involving distressing loss or injury to life...

So when people say something's a tragedy, they're not making a political comment, they're just saying something really bad happened. And they're using the word correctly.


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