As I read the article about the two news helicopters that crashed into each other while attending to the oh-so-important task of providing entertaining footage of a police chase occurring on the roadways below, I was struck by the odd way in which one of the dead was described.
PHOENIX — Two news helicopters covering a police chase on live television collided and crashed to the ground Friday, killing all four people on board in a plunge that viewers saw as a jumble of spinning, broken images. Both helicopters went down in a park in central Phoenix and caught fire. No one on the ground was hurt… KNXV reporter Craig Smith, who was among the dead, was reporting live as police chased a man driving a flatbed truck who had fled a traffic stop.”
The phrase “…Smith, who was among the dead…” stood out for me. It has a certain poetic quality, being “among” the dead. It sounds like he may be alive, but is visiting Elysian Fields and having tea with the departed. The dual ways in which one can view this phrase (the other, the intended, being that he is himself dead) may indicate that this is a phrase that will soon be retired, since it is the more colloquial phrases that cause us to titter when we examine newspapers from the last century. (I can’t actually cite any examples, because what do you want for free?). Of course when writing about matters of a sensitive nature we rely on phrases that are euphemistic as a way of signaling our awareness that the literal truth may be painful, and we use figurative language at every opportunity simply because it engages us more effectively than literal language — even in this particular blog entry, at the start of this paragraph. I wrote that the line “stood out for me”, but of course a phrase has no body, no way to step forward from a line like a soldier breaking ranks. These words and phrases are all based on imagery that tries to convey an impression of how our minds relate to reality, rather than trying to convey a direct impression of reality itself. (The latter exists of course, as technical writing…and is often considered tedious to read, which is why instruction booklets tend not to get read).