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February 13, 2006

So Sayeth My Inner Pedant

From an otherwise good Urban Institute report:

The most vulnerable populations in New Orleans—the elderly, people with physical and mental disabilities, and single mothers out of the labor market—arguably were hit hardest by Katrina.

You don't say? Isn't being hit hardest by massive disasters sort of intrinsic to categorization "most vulnerable?" You see this a lot of Think Tank reports. It's the sort of redundancy-in-service-of-clarity that's apparently taught in grad school, but annoys my inner pedant no end. Yes, the most vulnerable tend to do the worst when services are cut/disasters hit/bad things happen. Being the likeliest to suffer in case of catastrophe is exactly what makes them the "most vulnerable."

February 13, 2006 | Permalink

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Comments

I think a big part of the trouble - and this is not to defend the usage - is that a lot of phrases, such as "vulnerable populations" or "the disadvantaged" are used as designations, but are, in fact, descriptions. So where an un-PC report would talk about how the poor and old being hit hard, the UI is forced into tautology. You see the same things in education reports: "disadvantaged students lack many advantages afforded to the wealthy."

A common complaint about PC language is that it's clumsy and inaccurate, that it's all circumlocution. In this case, the more accurate phrasing makes for clumsier prose.

Posted by: JRoth | Feb 13, 2006 4:12:51 PM

They have to say this because otherwise people will show up and say "If you have any actual evidence that A) poor people have less power in a capitalist economy
B) reducing taxes reduces government revenue
C) men tend to do less housework than women
- I'd like to see it. Otherwise, I'll ignore everything you say because of your irrational agenda-based rhetoric."

These people are beyond convincing, but somehow we feel like we still need to present them with convincing data.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Feb 13, 2006 4:14:25 PM

I am surprised you haven't gone through that in undergrad. here at berkeley, its the same crap.

Posted by: b | Feb 13, 2006 4:21:46 PM

arguably were hit hardest by Katrina

Notice the weasle word 'arguably'.

I guess it could be argued that facts don't exist to prove that the rich weren't among the hardest hit. Maybe 'hit' is the culprit word. In this context, 'hit' doesn't say very much, really.

Posted by: JimPortandOR | Feb 13, 2006 6:33:48 PM

I teach grad students, and I have never, ever suggested they write that way.

Just saying ;)

Posted by: hilzoy | Feb 13, 2006 10:38:09 PM

I guess getting funding for the following report would be difficult: "The vulnerable are more vulnerable, so we need to make them less vulnerable."

Posted by: Hank | Feb 13, 2006 10:50:52 PM

Nutritionally deprived people suffer the most from not having enough food. Also, sick people suffer the most from lack of health care. Most of all, though, victims of crime are the real, er, victims of inadequate law enforcement.

Posted by: TigerHawk | Feb 13, 2006 11:10:43 PM

Tigerhawk, I'm going to have to spend some time thinking through the implications of all that you said. It's a lot to digest, really.

Do you have any links to studies and/or documents that substantiate your claims?

Posted by: Stephen | Feb 13, 2006 11:40:21 PM

Is it a crime if the state doesn't prosecute ? or the President does it ?

Posted by: opit | Feb 13, 2006 11:54:51 PM

The implication being that we should have been working hardest to protect the most vulnerable populations, and failed. The report is being a bit oblique, but it is not redundancy for the sake of redundancy.

Posted by: E | Feb 14, 2006 12:59:12 AM

"Arguably?" ARGUABLY??? When someone gives me evidence showing why the contrary position is arguable, then maybe the one stated is also arguable. Otherwise it's just, you know, true.

Posted by: Joe | Feb 14, 2006 1:51:00 AM

OT: Ezra, what's this I hear about Paul Hackett being pushed out of his Senate race by Harry Reid??

Is Reid actually retarded? Hackett was his Iraq veteran poster-boy!

Posted by: Mastiff | Feb 14, 2006 4:01:29 AM

I am not against strong arming someone out of a race in principle, but why the hell did they wait so long to do it to Hackett. But, if they had done it sooner, he might have found another race (other than the 2nd) to run in, and perhaps this is exactly why the waited to tell him - they want him out of of Democratic politics all together

Posted by: sonnerie mobile | Feb 14, 2006 5:46:42 AM

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Posted by: judy | Oct 1, 2007 4:58:26 AM

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