When Euphemisms (but Never Sharks) Attack

Shark scientists have been exhorting the public to call human-shark interactions something other than shark attacks, preferring less pejorative terms like “shark encounters.” The scientists emphasize that humans tend to be to blame for shark injuries — stepping accidentally on small sharks, which snap back; swimming in murky water, venturing too close.

“A ‘shark attack’ is a story of intent,” Christopher Pepin-Neff of the University of Sydney, told the Times reporter Alan Yuhas. “But sharks don’t know what people are. They don’t know when you’re in the boat. They don’t know what a propeller is. It’s not an attack.”

But the terms being offered as replacements, while more accurate and less inflammatory, have a ring of gentility to them, evoking the top hats and evening gloves of centuries past.

To wit, a shark incident:

“On Tuesday, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks imposed “hoot owl” restrictions on the Missouri River, one of the most popular trout fishing sites in the state, between Helena and Great Falls because of warm water temperatures. The rule bans fishing after 2 p.m. (The term “hoot owl restrictions” stems from the early days of the timber industry. Loggers work early in the mornings of late summer, when it’s cooler, because the forests are dry and that increases the risk of chain saws or other equipment sparking a fire. Loggers often heard owls during their early morning shifts.)”

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