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Rioters or protesters? Words matter

by on 13 Aug, 2011

The recent riots in England have hammered home something we already know: writers need to think carefully about the words they choose.

The BBC found this out when it spent two days calling the looters in the disturbances that have rocked England in the past few days, protesters. It provoked a leader in The Daily Telegraph  and an article in The Guardian, not to mention plenty of comments on Twitter.

Rioters, they said, not protesters. A look at the Concise Oxford dictionary shows they are right. A riot is:

1.n disorder, tumult, disturbance of the peace, outbreak of lawlessness, on  part of a crowd ( in Law by three or more)

Whereas protest is:

demonstration of objection to official policy

So the people looting shops in England (not the UK as people in Scotland were quick to point out) seem to fit the definition of rioters.

Language is always changing – take the use of the word “feds” used by many of the rioters as name for the police.

But precise language is powerful language.

And the moral of this story? Writers ignore the dictionary at their peril.

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