I heard it again today. X number of US soldiers were killed in Iraq today, the most in X months/weeks/days. I've heard it from several different news sources.
What does this mean? Seriously, what is this supposed to convey? I tend to catch most of my news on NPR in the morning, and they use that particular construction a lot. It has bothered me for a while, and today it bothered me enough to speak up. I sent an email to NPR to ask them about it, trying to express to them how much the phrase confused me and how it seemed to reduce the constant death toll in Iraq (and Afghanistan and other places) to some kind of sales statistic, and a flabby, useless statistic at that.
Words shape our understanding and experience of our world (try thinking about something without having a word come up in your head -- it's not easy, and the more word oriented you are, the harder it can be.) This particular phrase shows up a lot and I think it takes those deaths and puts a particular shade and shape on them, to make them manageable somehow. I'm not sure those deaths should be manageable.
OK, so nine soldiers died today, and nine soldiers dying in one day hasn't happened in four weeks. So four weeks ago, at least nine other soldiers died. If at least one but less than eight soldiers died each day, how many possible soldier deaths have taken place in the last month?
It sounds more like a math class word problem and less like what it is -- men and women putting themselves into danger for the political purposes of a government, men and women who are important to their families and friends, whose lives had meaning and purpose, who are gone now through violence, who are themselves perhaps committing violence and taking the lives of others in the style of conflict we call war.
I'm uncomfortable with that, even if it seems a very mild and nuanced sort of thing. I guess I think it should be more upsetting to more people.