Friday, August 31, 2007



I was reading an archived conversation, one about language and words, from several years ago, and came across this segment:

sg-usa: It is not presence or absence of care, whatever suffices is good enough in communication, particularly speedy communications?

kevin USA: Perhaps a more common goal nowadays is to simply “get the idea across”?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker): Yeah, this is a famous cop-out, isn’t it? (There’s a question—what word would I have used 50 years ago to convey “cop-out”?)

sarahfrances: cop-out =excuse 50 years ago

kevin USA: I would have used ‘excuse’ ;) But I haven’t been alive that long.

Cole: Rationalization?

Lisa Simeone (Guest Speaker): I think rationalization conveys the tone better.

I’m not so sure. I think “cop-out” can be used for either “excuse” (the noun) or “rationalization” sometimes, but the more general sense I have of it is as a way to avoid a tough question, or a difficult obligation. In that sense it is more specific than an excuse or a rationalization. The implication is that rather than facing your true response to a situation, you’re taking the easy way out by using a mild lie or a true but oversimplified or evasive answer.

“The dog ate my homework,” is an excuse (a trite, lame one), but never a cop-out. Something like, “The end justifies the means,” is a rationalization, but not a cop-out either.

On the other hand, “I didn’t try out for the part in the play because I really have a lot of studying to do this month,” is a cop-out, if the real reason is that you were afraid of being depressed if you didn’t get the part. In the discussion quoted above, “I don’t need to use proper grammar / spelling / punctuation, because you can understand what I mean anyway,” is a cop-out that helps one avoid admitting that one doesn’t know the proper way.

I don’t think there’s a direct replacement for “cop-out”, really. It’s one of those things that we needed a word for... and now we have one.

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