Drop The "A" Word - Not all crashes are accidents

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Word On Words: Accidents

“The public usually associates the word with an event, not with the damage that results.”

Erase it from your vocabulary.  Please.

As someone trained in public health, I loathe this word.  It implies an event is an act of God, unpredictable and unpreventable, something that happens by chance.  If you’re interested in a very thorough history of the word, this article provides details back to the 14th Century of its use in both a legal and religious context.  If you’re perhaps a little less interested, let it suffice to say it was a useful word before we had more rigorous methods of inquiry and all we could do was chalk things up to events falling from the heavens.  But it also shows a pattern of this word having been repeatedly rejected as a technical term–both scientifically and legally, due to its lack of meaning useful to those fields.  Instead, its persistence stems from the term’s usefulness in marketing and politics.

The problem with this word–which, not coincidentally is why it is useful politically–is that it stands in the way of progress.  As long as we term something an “accident” we don’t (and don’t have to) look any further.  “Things happen,” we say, “accidents happen.”  What can you do about things that just “happen”?

Read the full blog post here.

By Molly Tran
Twitter - @WalkingNPR

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