Sunday, May 04, 2008


And, believe it or not, for William Safire, who writes this in his "On Language" column in The New York Times today:

One independent candidate bugged by a voguish euphemism is Ralph Nader, who called me the other day to register a complaint about the unthinking, universal adoption of the word detainee. "You put somebody in jail for three years and still call him a detainee? What's wrong with prisoner?"

I've ragged on you for years, Ralph, but that's an excellent point. And Safire, who does take words seriously, seems to agree:

The famed consumer advocate has a point.... Whatever may be the legal meaning of detainee, first cited in 1928, the Latin root of detain is tenere, "to hold," and the verb means "to hold temporarily, usually in an emergency," a far cry from "imprison," which connotes longer or more severe confinement.

Thanks, Ralph -- and I mean that sincerely. I think George Orwell, somewhere in the afterlife, is also expressing gratitude.

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