'Terror' Can't Hold A Box Cutter, So What's A 'Terror Attack'?

The September 11 memorial at the Pentagon in Washington D.C., remembering the civilian and military lives lost. i i

hide captionThe September 11 memorial at the Pentagon in Washington D.C., remembering the civilian and military lives lost.

downtownBLUE/Flickr
The September 11 memorial at the Pentagon in Washington D.C., remembering the civilian and military lives lost.

The September 11 memorial at the Pentagon in Washington D.C., remembering the civilian and military lives lost.

downtownBLUE/Flickr

It's one lonely suffix, and one tiny detail in NPR and the news media's tremendous volume of 9/11 anniversary coverage.

But when NPR's hosts and correspondents said "terror attacks" in anniversary lead-up coverage, Ann Crehore of Charlotte, NC, bemoaned the disappearance of the –ist.

... I keep hearing the phrase "terror attacks". I do not like the phrase "terror attacks". Terror did not attack us on September 11th, terrorists did. Terror does not have hands with which to use box cutters. Terrorists do. Terror is a feeling. Terrorists are human beings who make choices to kill innocent people. The phrase "terror attacks" takes the responsibility off the men who committed premeditated murder and puts it on a feeling. Please, use the phrase "terrorist attacks" to describe what happened that day.

The phrase labeled violent terrorist activity on NPR programs five times in the past month, according to a transcript search.

Ms. Crehore has a point. Do you think the phrase "terror attack" diffuses personal responsibility into a generalized feeling? Are we sliding into a form of political correctness, or langauge that is so neutral that it smacks of the inability to look a terrorist in the eye and call her what she is?

You might think about this as NPR and the rest of the news media roll out their massive 9/11 anniversary coverage this weekend. Other related ombudsman issues are piling up already for all of us to dissect next week.

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