or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, October 05, 2012

'Til Death

Here is an actual sentence from an actual Slate article:

Ellision is, understandably, mortified by what he sees.

Well, so what, you might rightly say. But here are the sentences that precede it:

"Sinister" opens with a scratchy home movie of their murder; later, while straightening up the attic, Ellison stumbles upon that film and several others, along with an 8 mm projector. The films capture the grisly murders of a handful of families, their cruelly snickering titles hinting at the slaughters within (“Hanging Out” for the family strung up on their tree, “BBQ” for a family barbeque turned arson, “Pool Party” for a backyard gathering that ends with several people chained and drowned, et cetera). They are shot from the point of view of the killer (or killers): happy family frolics captured from a distance, through foliage and window blinds, then hard cuts to victims bound and gagged, gruesomely murdered by the camera operator.

How can that be considered mortifying? Or, more to the point, how can the piece's author, Jason Bailey, think that "mortifying" means what he seems to think it means, whatever that might be, rather than what it actually means?

"Mortify" certainly has its its roots in the Latin "mortis", "death". But it hasn't really had anything to do with death for at least a couple of hundred years. There are two current meaning of "mortify". The less common, as seen in the phrase "to mortify the flesh", means to scourge or subdue the body for, usually, religious or quasi religious purposes. The most common meaning is "to cause to feel ashamed and humiliated": if you like, you can consider the "mortis" stem to mean, "I was so embarrassed I wanted to die." Neither, though, has anything to do with watching snuff films.

Professional writers shouldn't be using words they don't understand. They might want to hunt for at least a good dictionary, if not a proper editor.


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Tuesday, January 13, 2015 11:41:00 PM  

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