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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
  • A Little Salt: Searching for a better word

  • Courier-Post columnist Danny Henley asks if "heroic" is a word that's used too often.
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  • Even though I write for a living, I don’t profess to be particularly adept at always selecting the proper word that has the exact meaning I’m attempting to convey. That very point was driven home last week when I was asked by my 16-year-old daughter, Anna, to give a quick read to a school assignment she’d written.
    “I need another word for ‘bad.’ My teacher doesn’t like it when we use that word,” she said.
    According to thesaurus.com, there are a wide assortment of synonyms for bad from which to choose: abominable, amiss, atrocious, awful, bad news, beastly, blah, bottom out, bummer, careless, cheap, cheesy, crappy, cruddy, crummy, defective, deficient, diddly, dissatisfactory, downer, dreadful, erroneous, fallacious, faulty, garbage, godawful, grody, gross, grungy, icky, imperfect, inadequate, incorrect, inferior, junky, lousy, not good, off, poor, raunchy, tough, sad, slipshod, stinking, substandard, synthetic, the pits, unacceptable and unsatisfactory. I’m sure with a little time and effort we might even be able to come up with a few more.
    My point is that while there may be a number of potential synonyms for the word “bad,” one still needs to know the context in order to come up with the proper word.
    Last week I read an article in which the word “heroic” was used that left me scratching my balding head as I contemplated if another word would have been better suited.
    A video entitled “Pig rescues baby goat” was posted on YouTube last Wednesday. It had already attracted a couple of hundred thousand views by Saturday. The video taken at a petting zone features images of a small swine swimming out to a squealing baby goat whose foot was stuck under a rock. The pig nudges the goat enough to free it from its predicament, after which both animals swim to shore.
    The article hails the porker for its “heroic instincts.” Heroic? Hmmm! I guess I have a little trouble using a word like “heroic” in regard to the pig’s actions, or any animal’s life-saving actions.
    In the write up about the video it is noted that after exiting the water the pig “acts as if nothing much just happened.” Nor would I expect this little piggy to get out of the water and take a bow, sign autographs, or do anything that would indicate it could contemplate the actions it had just taken were significant in some way. And that’s exactly my point. When a pig, or any animal for that matter, puts its life on the line to save another animal, or even a human, can its actions be called “heroic” since there is no apparent level of consciousness that their actions could have had dire consequences for them?
    Page 2 of 2 - When a soldier throws his or her body on a live grenade to save others, that’s a heroic act. The soldier knows what the cost will be, but does it anyway.
    When a firefighter charges into a burning building to pull someone out, that’s a heroic act because he or she is aware they’re putting their life on the line.
    When a police officer braves a hail of bullets to pull someone out of harm’s way, that is a heroic act.
    When someone ventures into a Muslim country to share the good news of Jesus Christ, I would submit that is also a heroic act, considering the potential consequences.
    When a ham on hooves saves the life of a goat, its selfless actions are indeed a point of curiosity and wonder. But a word like “heroic” should be reserved for those who understand the risks of their actions and make a conscious decision to take them anyway.

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