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When the Word Fits, Use It (But Don’t Misuse It)


For those of you who enjoy words (and that probably applies to anyone who visits a blog devoted to effective communications), I encourage you to click here and listen to a wonderful radio commentary by linguist Geoff Nunberg. 

During his segment on the NPR program Fresh Air, Nunberg talks about how the Bernard Madoff scandal has left people scrambling to find just the right word to properly express their moral indignation, as well as to heap scorn on the “scoundrel” himself.  But as he explains, the most favored word — sociopath — in earlier years was actually used to “exonerate badness by reframing it as illness.” Today, he says, sociopath has become “a loose term of abuse for anybody you want to claim is unfettered by the pangs of conscience.”

I don’t know about you, but that seems wrong to me.

–Bruce Trachtenberg

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