Trauma: The Words Matter

I’m no English scholar, but boy does most of our country have no grasp of our own language. Especially those in communications. Headlines on news websites read like tabloids. Content creators will write ANYTHING as long as it “invokes an emotion.” Business writing all reads the same, just exchange the name, industry, and products. Writing used to be an art, the things on a person’s mind, not a cheap labor used to clog up the internet. It doesn’t frustrate me that the art of writing is being destroyed, plenty of great writers sell their souls for paychecks, myself included, but it’s the fact that our words are being misused and abused for cheap punchlines and to drive product sales so much that our words are losing their meaning.

Right before a Monday Night Football game, a promo aired that featured clips of the Buffalo Bills losing four straight Super Bowls. A voiceover described the agony Bills fans felt after being so close to winning it all, but losing, as “traumatic.” What? A sports team losing is traumatic? Who writes this? Clearly, someone who doesn’t know what the word “traumatic” means. The correct word should have been “dramatic”, which means “behaving in a way that makes something seem much worse, more serious, more frightening, etc. than it really is.”

A sports team loss isn’t traumatic. It isn’t even in the same universe.

One could argue that it’s a bit dramatic to be hyper focused on the word “trauma” in one promo during one football game. But it’s not. We’ve all seen, read, or heard the word trauma used incorrectly. And being someone who experienced incredible traumas, yeah, it pisses me off when some clown uses the word “trauma” to describe fans emotions when their team loses. Or when someone spills a cup of coffee. Why? Because when words are repeated constantly, they become diluted.

When massive shootings first became normalized (the fact this is a truth, should “invoke an emotion”), strangers unrelated to the events would be glued to the TV, upset for days or weeks. Shocked. Horrified. How could this happen in America? Now, Americans can’t even count the amount of mass shootings we’ve experienced just this year. Our future generations perform active shooter drills, similar to the duck and cover air raid drills in the fifties, another solution that doesn’t solve the core issue. We’ve become de-stigmatized. Mass shooting events don’t even bother most of us. Maybe we see the shooting on the news, to make sure it’s not near us or in towns where people we love are, and we get back to our lives. Just another day in America.

Words lose their power. Some already have. That’s what’s happening to the word trauma.

What is a trauma? Well, according to the internet it’s a football team losing, a missed flight, a hangover, or getting the wrong order at the drive-thru and not realizing it until arriving home. If those are traumas, how would someone describe the families and soldiers in Ukraine who are living in an active war zone? What is it called when a father beats his kids after he loses his job and gets drunk? Or what about when a family friend sexually assaults their friend’s kid? Or what if a family member commits the violation? I guess that’s the same type of feeling as spilling a five-dollar-cup of coffee or accidentally killing a plant.

Trauma isn’t the only word being decimated in our mass content creation world, but it offends me. A lot. It’s not like I can tune it out, either. It’s incorrectly parroted online, the TV, and all-over social media. Misusing trauma for impact, money, laughs, and/or attention is a gross violation. Plus, it’s morally bankrupt, shows a lack of understanding of our language, and most importantly, it can be triggering to those who’ve actually experienced trauma. Most people who experience trauma try to write it off, as if it didn’t matter. Or it wasn’t that bad. The more we misuse trauma, the more the word’s impact lessens. And hurts those who need it. The words we use matter. More than you think.

Earlier this year, Lisa Pandell wrote a piece for about how the word trauma has “become so omnipresent in pop culture that some experts worry it’s losing its meaning.” It further clarifies these points with data and experts… for you nerds out there.

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Brian Price

Stories about the struggles of a millennial trying to stay a float in our chaotic world.