Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wednesday Wordage Mourning Edition

Times change.  Behavior that is commonplace now would have rocked the world of a century past; what was once normal, right, and proper is now fusty, antiquated, and weird.

So, a bit over a year ago, a guy with some mental issues completely legally obtained weapons designed for the sole purpose of efficiently killing lots of people, walked into a classroom at the local community college, and used those weapons for their intended purpose.  I do think that a century ago, the event would have been remembered differently.  After all, we still talk about Jack the Ripper, who killed maybe six people, and the Hatfields and McCoys, who were not especially efficient in their murderous ways.  I thought that it was a certainty that my town would be forever branded with this mass shooting.  It was the main subject in the national news for almost a week, an inescapable thing, and the word "Roseburg" was paired with the word "shooting," like it or not.

A year later, it seems that we are past it.  Perhaps mass shootings are too commonplace.  For a while, when I mentioned that I was from Roseburg, people from out of state would mumble some sort of recognition and note the city's loss.  Now, when I talk to people from out of state, they haven't heard of Roseburg or know anything about it.

I guess it wasn't horrible enough.  Newtown is horrible enough that it is still remembered, so we know that the deaths of twenty-some little kids can cause a lasting dent the nation's psyche.  10 people, mostly young adults?  Not enough.

But this is supposed to be about words, and changes in usage.

There are rites of mourning.  There used to be standards for these.  In the Victorian era, when death was a lot more everyday, there were things that were done--the death photograph, the lock of hair, the wearing of mourning, and so on, and written rules for how long they should be done for.  To modern sensibilities, these rules seem pretty bizarre--but they are helpful, in that they do provide some guidance for how to not look disrespectful.  Now we are winging it, and here in Roseburg, we can use some help.

Immediately after the shooting, business marquees all started reading "ROSEBURG STRONG" or "OUR THOUGHTS ARE WITH UCC" or "PRAY FOR UCC" and so on.  That is a socially acceptable form of public mourning.  It actually may be obligatory rather than demanded.  But in the absence of a code, it's not clear when you can take down that message and post "SUMMER FUN SUPPLIES" or "SPOOKY SAVINGS INSIDE."  In an earlier time, we'd know: six months for a second degree relation, a year for a first degree relation, maintaining a black border, and so on.  Now, without these codes, many of the signs are still up, and I'm sure the proprietors would take them down but for the fear of being disrespectful.  Sometimes, rigid rules help.

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