Thursday, July 16, 2009

A loon by any other name

I just noted this editorial addendum at the end of a short article by Daniel Dennett:

This article was amended on Thursday 16 July 2009. Moon-landing sceptics were referred to as "loonies", contrary to the Guardian style guide. This has been corrected.

This seems to be pushing politesse more than a bit too far. I mean 'sceptic' sounds nice and moderate and rational and sciencey: disbelieving things like the moon landings is, indeed, the pastime of people better described as loons.

Such distinctions, I think, should be maintained.


Jasper Milvain said...

As I understand it, the concern is "Unfair to mad people!", not "Unfair to the holders of ridiculous beliefs!"

Geoff Coupe said...

I may be barking up the wrong tree, but in English usage (as opposed to what I think may be the case in American English), there is a distinction between the words "loon" and "loony" (plural: loonies).

A "loon" is a Scottish/North English dialect word meaning "rogue, scamp, or worthless person".

A "loony" is short for "lunatic": "mad, frantic, crazy, extremely foolish", and of course derives from the belief that such people were influenced by the phases of the moon.

It seems to me that Dan Dennett was quite deliberate in his choice of the term loonies to describe moon landing deniers, and accurate in so doing.

Bloody Guardian and its fucking PC style guide. Where will it end?

J. Carter Wood said...

JM: I'm sure you're right as to the original intent of the style guidelines. I don't suspect the Guardian of being especially fond of moon-landing denialists.

In this case, however, that original intention ('Unfair to mad people!') has now seeped over into changing -- significantly, I think -- the depiction of the second category of people ('Unfair to the holders of ridiculous beliefs!').

And while I am nothing but sympathetic to the cause of those with mental illnesses (quite a significant portion of the population according to some studies and, I must say, my own admittedly subjective observations), I still think there should be a handy colloquial term or two which pithily expresses something like the following: 'Only a person of abnormal mental abilities would be able to believe an idea such as X'.

And 'loony' -- like 'crazy', 'bonkers', and, um, 'mad' -- is a very good example of such a term.

'Skeptic' doesn't even come close to the same meaning.

Which means, Geoff, that you're barking up very much the right tree.

Thank you both for coming by.