June 03, 2005


It's not really possible to count how many words there are in the English language, but it's a lot. And many people agree that English has more words than most other world languages. Anecdotally, I remember noticing the problem when I was learning French and I wanted to distinguish between jump, hop, and leap; French only has the one jumping verb. There's no distinction in Swedish between winking and blinking, though I'm sure flirters would disagree.

English has plenty of words to describe everything quite accurately, which is why I get so angry when people start conflating the definitions of words. I'm mad that what happened at Abu Ghraib gets labeled as "torture" when we have the word "humiliation" to differentiate the two concepts. The word torture loses its specific meaning when it covers the spectrum, just as jump shouldn't cover both leaps and hops.

I've been especially mad this week over the misuse of the word "gulag" by Amnesty International. "Gulag" is a very specific word used to describe a very specific type of penal system. It is entirely not appropriate for discussing Guantanamo Bay.

The Jawa Report has a well-researched post about what exactly a gulag is. We have plenty of words in the English language to accurately define the differences between the gulag and Gitmo; let's use them.

Posted by Sarah at June 3, 2005 08:21 AM

Torture is a semantically valid term. They were physically abusing individuals to try to get them to reveal information. The photos show people bleeding whose legs were torn open by dogs, who were hung by their wrists with wire for extended periods, and other extreme physical abuse. They physically abused to the point that some died. If you want to say that's not torture, and just humiliation, then the word torture no longer has any meaning. You can't humiliate someone to death.

Posted by: VOT at June 8, 2005 06:37 AM

This is a debater's trick - you are trying to distract from the point. Amnesty International criticized the United States for holding prisoners without due process and torturing them, and they have the evidence on their side. Only someone wilfully deluding themselves could deny that this is happening.

So what do you do? You accuse Amnesty International of poor word choice. Your contribution to the debate is a piece criticizing Amnesty for the inappropriate use of the term 'Gulag'. Plainly you know you are in a bad spot and are trying to sneak out.

Posted by: Mr. Silly at June 9, 2005 06:04 AM