Last week a friend of mine said, ‘Come on, let’s get a donut. I’m starving.’
I told him, ‘You’re not starving. People in North Korea and Africa are starving.’
He said, ‘Fair enough, but I can only afford one donut.’
Then on the news the other night, a local councilor spoke out against bars on Chapel Street wanting 3am licenses. ‘Chapel Street after 3am,’ he said. ‘With all the vomiting, urinating, smashing bottles and fighting. It’s like a warzone.’
Now that’s someone who’s obviously never been to a warzone. If that’s actually what it’s like in Afghanistan no wonder we’re winning. We’ve got guns.
But of course it’s not like that. Afghanistan’s a proper warzone. You’ll never hear a troop over there say during an interview, ‘Today we got hit by a roadside bomb, were involved in a firefight and three of my mates were injured. It’s just like Chapel Street on a Saturday night.’
Maybe part of the reason we care so little for those overseas with real problems, like starvation and war, has to do with the way we use language. The media is one of the main offenders. Such as headlines that the dropping price of milk is part of a ‘supermarket price war’. Now unless the milk is armed with an uzi and attacking the yoghurt, that’s not a real war.
According to the nightly news, due to traffic congestion, every day on Australia’s roads it’s a ‘battle’ to get to work. No it’s not. It’s just difficult. It’d only be a battle if lollipop ladies started packing heat, the bikies took over the tollbooths and police were tazering people for little things like stealing biscuits. Hang on, I think that last one happened.
Then there’s the current affairs program that reported, ‘Mother’s beware, this pram is a deathtrap.’ Not unless it’s covered with poison tipped spikes or filled with deadly snakes. The pram might have a fault with the potential to cause injury, but a deathtrap is a cage full of lions under a trapdoor, like in a Bond film.
There’s also less dramatic, but equally damaging language. Like the headline announcing ‘Michael Clarke’s Fairytale Wedding.’ Now I’m not talking about Clarke’s history with Lara Bingle. We’ve all got a history, and a lot of men have a history with Lara, either the real one or one with a thing for raiding tombs.
No, I’m talking about the word ‘fairytale’. I had a good look at those photos. Not one dwarf, goblin or hobbit. No little pigs, no wolves in red hoods, and all the mice in attendance could see just fine. The groom wasn’t a frog, and the bride wasn’t sleeping, nor did she have long hair. Also, no sign of a dragon.
We use words for emphasis, but doing it too often takes away from the real meaning of those words. As a result we’re less concerned when we hear that people are actually starving and there’s a real war.
Worst of all, children might start losing interest in fairytales. When I was a kid, there was nothing like a story about a woman who cooked children, or a wolf that ate them to get me off to sleep. Still, less terrifying than a pretty boy cricket captain with rubbish tattoos who doesn’t drink beer.
The Melbourne encore season of his show ‘Binge Thinking’ is on at the Butterfly Club from June 21-24. Tickets from: www.thebutterflyclub.com
This article first appeared in MX a couple of weeks ago.