And today, I return to one of my favourite themes: language. Lazy language.
Chances are you’ll know that I object to the whole ‘battle’ language of cancer, and not least because when people die they are said to have ‘lost the battle’, which always makes me sad. I’d rather think of people being overwhelmed (thanks to the late Christopher Hitchens).
Listening to the news the other day, there was a report about a bomb going off, and ‘innocent civilians losing their lives’. Which makes me upset. Upset because these people have died: and upset because some lazy journalist has decided that they have ‘lost’ their lives.
Let’s think about losing. I lose keys, and knitting needles, and the odd pound coin down the back of the sofa. I lose track of time, I lose interest, I lose my place in a book.
But, if I were on a bus and that bus had a bomb on it and the bomb went off, I would not have lost my life. I would have had it wrenched from me. I would have stepped on to that bus with everything I feel about living intact. I would have carried with me the preciousness, the beauty, the value of every breathing day of it. And I would have kept hold of that until the moment of the flash and the pain and the being caught up in someone else’s wrong-headed idea of what’s reasonable and decent in the world. I would have died; been killed; had life pulled out of my unsuspecting arms.
But losing my life? No. I would never be so careless. I am sorry, so sorry, that we live in a world where some people think it is OK to be careless with the lives of others, whether by carrying a bomb or drinking too much and getting behind the wheel of a car. But please, let’s not think, for a moment, that the people who get on to a bus, or a plane, or are walking down the street when someone on a mission murders them, have carried life so lightly that they could have dropped it as easily as a bright tuppence that spins, coppery, in the sunshine, just out of reach, before dropping down a drain.
Loss, and losing, have their places in our lexicon of death. When people close to us die, we feel their loss acutely. We have lost something then, because what we valued and treasured has been taken from us. We reach for it, and it’s not there, not in the place that we left it, not in any of the places that we look. That is loss, and we should call it that.
But please, journalists, newsreaders, commentators, people who talk and write and opine about the terrible things that happen in our world, think before you speak of lost lives.