Monday, September 18, 2006


"Detainees": What's in a name?

As I continue to see things in the news about the "detainees", I keep remembering that I've been meaning for some time to comment on the term.

William Shakespeare wrote, in Romeo and Juliet, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other word would smell as sweet." The Bard was right as far as that went, and it was an apt thing for Juliet to say in the circumstance, but the fact is that names do matter. Would you rather live in Paradise, Pennsylvania... or Toad Suck, Arkansas? Well, OK, but that's just because you're being contrary! You know what I'm getting at here.

In the case of "detainees", it's the same thing: What image does "detainee" create for you? I think of a detainee as someone held briefly, perhaps for questioning or perhaps as punishment for a minor transgression. Disrupting class in grade school might land you in "detention", where you'd stay after school for an hour and couldn't go play with your friends.

These people have been locked up for years, with little access to the judicial system (and that which they have was wrested from the government with King George kicking and screaming). They aren't charged with anything apart from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, on the wrong side of the political river.

These are "political prisoners".

Let's start calling a spade a spade, and let's have the news media stop colluding with the Bushies to sugar-coat reality.


Jim said...

While we're on the subject of terminology, how about "casualty"? My dictionary defines casualty as "a serious or fatal injury", while CentCom and even seem to have the term confused with "fatality".

I think we are gravely understating the human cost of the conflict when we confuse the terms.

Barry Leiba said...

Oof. I had no idea they were being confused. I certainly don't mix them up — when I grew up watching Vietnam figures, they always talked about "casualties" and "deaths", and they were separate (the latter was always much less, of course). I just assumed "casualty" was still being used correctly now, as then.

But, ah, we know what happens when you "assume".