Steven Pinker's book, The Stuff of Thought, focuses on a major thread we've been following in class this year: namely, the connection between our choice of words and the thoughts behind them. He opens with an on-going law suit concerning the World Trade Towers. The suit concerns the definition of a single word -- "event." If the fall of the two towers is seen as one event (one plan master-minded by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda) then the lease holder of the WTC is entitled to 3.5 billion dollars. However, if the fall of the towers is seen as two separate events, then the leaseholder will receive 7 billion dollars. See how important language is?
Here's a second example he cites. In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush used the following sentence to help justify the American invasion of Iraq that began later that year: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Shortly after the invasion it became clear that Hussein had no nuclear capabilities, nor did he ever explore the possibility of buying yellowcake [uranium] from Niger.
Many headlines screamed, "Bush lied." But did he? Pinker wants us to pay close attention to the language which, in his mind, rests on the word "learned."
Can you find an example of a headline or a news or sports story where a single word determines the way in which the event is understood?