Precise use of language

I’m struck by the loose use of language we’ve come to accept, sometime without even thinking about it.  For example, consider the word “free.”  How often have we heard a mail-order offer: buy one and get a second one free “just pay shipping and handling”?  Typically, the product is some cheap piece of plastic and the shipping and handling charges are so overblown (after all, the second item won’t be separately shipped, so why should there be a separate charge at all), they are probably making a profit on the second, supposedly free, item!  Also, before the Olympics, I received a mail request to support the U.S. team with a donation.  For a donation of $20 or more, I’d receive a “free” Olympics cap.  In other words, I’d have to pay $20 and the only thing I’d receive in return was the cap.  How is that free?

The next example is more cynical.  In Obama’s TV ad that is running here quite often, he says his plan calls for the rich to pay a little more so we can “pay down the debt.”  Huh?  No one is talking about paying down the debt.  We can’t even eliminate the yearly deficit.  True, Obama may not know the difference between “debt” and “deficit” but his ad writers sure should.

Or consider the fact that we routinely say that an Olympian “won” a bronze medal.  Well, no.  The Olympian lost the event.  He/she was awarded a bronze medal for not losing as badly as all but two other competitors in the event.

I’m sure you can think of lots of other, perhaps better, examples to share.