Watch Your Language

September 11 has been a subject much on our minds in the last month. It is not a topic we have strayed far from in the last year-it seems always to be at the periphery of just about every conversation we have had over the last twelve months-but it is a subject we identify in different ways.

Most of us refer to the day, as if on a calendar: "September Eleventh," even though it is not particularly idiomatically correct. Politicians often refer to what happened on September 11, 2001, as "the tragic events of September Eleventh," or some variation on that theme. That’s more accurate-when we talk about what happened that day, we are, after all, describing those events. But "the tragic events" phrasing has come to sound canned, and even worse, it’s passive. "Events" brings to mind a cocktail party or movie premiere. The tragedy of that day is that thousands of people died because the nation was attacked. But that’s a different semantic argument.

For the sake of conversational ease, we have reached a national understanding about how to refer to September 11. The day itself was one of the most important in this country’s history, and so we have needed to discuss it in a thousand different contexts, from dinner tables to water coolers to talk radio to bar stools. And in the process, we have decided to refer to the terrorist acts and the destruction and death they caused, simply as September 11.

The problem...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Tim Townsend, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, is a student at Yale Divinity School.