One of the things I love about writing about Language & Conflict is that the news provides so many wonderful opportunities to comment.
They meant that a technical failure caused the ship's captain to be unable to control the boat.
Makes sense. But the phrasing left this all very vague.
The Desk Broke...the Ship Floated.....
A few months ago, I sat on my office desk and broke it. I went to our Head of Operations and said, "the desk broke."
He caught on to my cheeky use of language and said, "How did you break the desk, Sarah?" We had a laugh. Of course, I was purposely playing with language to obscure my responsibility. I thought he would be more sympathetic and help more quickly if he assumed I was victim to a spontaneous breakage of office furniture.
Kids often say things like this not realizing that their parents put the true story together rather quickly.
In Japanese and Spanish, it is common to say things like "the lamp broke" instead of "I broke the lamp."
Shame is a powerful force in Japanese culture. Perhaps this is why people speak this way. Or it may just be how the language is structured.
In Spanish, at least in Colombia, I have a fantasy that the say this because they live in a state of magic realism...Things break because forces unseen break them.
In American English, however, such abstractions feel more like a purposeful distancing. We're a very litigious culture. We tend to pay close attention to who did what.
Have a listen this week at work and at home. Do people suggest their projects are victim to uncontrollable forces do they ascribe accountability to themselves or others?
How do you speak?
Do you position yourself as a jellyfish or a self-propelling mammal?