The Semantics of Terrorism
I feel that often language is abused, both in the sense that words can be used incorrectly but also in the sense that its possible to alienate people by using words they might not necessarily understand. The government recently changed our terror threat level from “Substantial” to “Severe”. Looking at the definition that the Oxford English Dictionary provides for “Substantial” it reads as follows:
of considerable importance, size, or worth or concerning the essentials of something.Oxford Languages
and “Severe” is defined as:
(of something bad or undesirable) very great; intense or (of punishment of a person) strict or harsh.Oxford Languages
Personally I don’t think that substantial is the most appropriate word in this particular instance, it implies (by the definition) that it could be as bad as “severe” and still doesn’t really explain the implications of the threat.
The MI5 website advises the following definitions for their threat levels:
- LOW means an attack is highly unlikely
- MODERATE means an attack is possible, but not likely
- SUBSTANTIAL means an attack is likely
- SEVERE means an attack is highly likely
- CRITICAL means an attack is highly likely in the near future
Any Etymologist can see the blatant abuse of the English language by UK Government agencies, rather than thinking of more appropriate wording that people can understand. It is safe to say that some of us would need to look up the correct definition of these words rather than assuming that ours is correct.
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