I have been heard to mention from time to time in my grumpy old 'what’s the world coming to persona:) that the English language for all its bright shiny new words and overused phrases, is becoming less ‘fit for purpose’ than we suppose.
I grew up ‘knowing’ I was the lucky speaker of a language so rich and textured all could be uttered. ‘Knew’ with all its borrowings and freedom to evolve and change there was a word for everything. I have been increasingly aware over the decades I was lied to. That the language cannot do that, and indeed what language can? However it is becoming increasingly apparent we are denuding what we have and in a sloppy lazy way reducing the vocabulary which might help us explain/describe/understand everything.
This week I am asking you what the word loot / looting means to you?
What images immediately flit across your mind when you are told someone is looting?
Me, I hear noise and see violence. I see riot and mayhem, war and conflict. I am seeing theft on a grand scale. I remember old tales of retreating armies laden with loot, weighed down by precious metals jewels and silks.
If I check the dictionary I see all these above are the definitions. Riot and war, taking of goods of a high value, it is called theft but it is a specific form of theft.
Spoils of plunder, taken by pillage(war/riot)
Taken dishonestly - by force, stealth etc
To despoil by taking
To rob,vandalize,wreck havoc, plunder, pillage
So I sat and watched the horrific events in the Philippines unfolding a week ago and heard with horror news-reporters telling us these people were looting.
They had nothing - no fresh water, no food, no shelter, no clothes except those they had on. They had no fuel to cook with, if they could find food. No fuel to heat their wet cold bodies.
These were not looters. They were survivors.
They were not even stealing as such. They were not breaking into shops, the shops were ‘down and out’ as were all the buildings. There were probably no owners, so many missing. If they had not eaten the food the rats would have or the food would have decayed into rotting messes in the sun.
Wheres the looting?
Even if we only go on the definitions, not the morality of circumstances, it was not looting. There was no war. No riots. There were patient queues of folk, all assisting children and the old as well as themselves, gentle, caring, a community of desperation. Watching the line of patiently waiting people, who needed a small bottle of fuel to cook with, keep their bikes going (so they could find news of family/friends/a food supply/help of some kind), images of riot or war did not spring to mind.
Bad news sells papers, we all know that. Were the reporters told to use such negativity in their reports? Did the desperate plight of those storm wrecked people need to be beefed up by the use of the wrong vocabulary.
Asking my friends for an better word in these circumstances and none were forthcoming none which would correctly describe what those survivors were doing except surviving however they came up with forage instead of loot.
Forage: food for horses/cattle, fodder, provender
Seeking/obtaining food /provision
To search about, rummage,seek, hunt
The military meaning of forage is to raid (there was no military present that was part of the problem!)
Laws made to be broken. Laws are put in place within civilizations to ensure anarchy does not break out. One obeys the laws in return for authorities ensuring life proceeds, in varying degrees of pleasantness depending on country. When authority breaks down or abandons it’s citizens as happened in the Philippines then Law ( that man made construct) should not apply.
Some say, ‘Oh it doesn't matter, people would understand and they had to say something’ (the news reporters) but words do matter. If a word has negative connotation's then memories of an event with be shaded negatively.
I'm not perfect, my friends will back me up on that statement, but why, oh why, are we so lazy with our language, why are we losing so many of the words, subtle shades of meaning? Why are we increasingly 'lumping' too many distinct meanings into one clumsy catch all of words?
Okay rant over - but please, does anyone know what word should have/could have been used instead of looting. Does English accommodate every situation? Are we becoming more constrained with this once fantastic language?