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Safety events

For those in peril in the air

What do you call birds smashing into planes, or aircraft nearly hitting each other on the runway or in the air, or in general any moments of peril in the aviation industry? What else but safety events? ((Thanks to Dave for the tip.)) NASA is refusing to publish the results of an American safety survey conducted among pilots and other aviation workers:

Two people involved in the survey, called the National Aviation Operations Monitoring Service, said that they had been ordered by NASA not to talk about what it found but they said that it indicated that the aviation administration had underestimated the rate of safety events.

The language constitutes such an unashamed inversion that I am not sure it is even worthy of the name Unspeak. Evidently the survey was asking about what normal people might call dangerous events, events that posed a risk to people’s lives. Recasting these as safety events, events in which some safety happily occurred, in which people were saved from death by a shining interjection of pure safety, is nothing if not a wonderfully optimistic angle.

This reminded me of a very short list I had been keeping of other euphemisms used in the world of flying machines. Initially I had been very alarmed by NASA’s own use of the phrase involuntary separations, picturing bits accidentally falling off spacecraft, or undesired decouplings of shuttles from space stations, and so on. Thankfully, “involuntary separations” at NASA are just those melancholic moments when NASA employees are fired – you know, without wanting to be.

Meanwhile, in the book Super-Crunchers, I learned of a cousin to the aviation industry’s “safety events”. When safety does not miraculously occur but a plane actually crashes, this is sometimes known as a transportation event. I for one am glad that my recent flight back to Paris, though it was in a very real sense an event that transported me, was not a transportation event.

What other fun names can you think of for peril or disasters, readers?

  1. 1  E. Danielyan  October 31, 2007, 2:36 pm 

    Here is another example, nauseatingly familiar to Londoners: you can hear this feast of language in the tube every day:
    “In these times of heightened security…”

    And another one, on smoking:
    “Government legislation in force since…”

    As if there is any other type of legislation other than government legislation…

  2. 2  Fallhammer  November 4, 2007, 4:17 pm 

    The field is too rich, Mr P., from plucky British understatement along the lines of “prang” and “bracing weather” to the lunatic euphemisms of the military (somebody should write a book about them).

    I suspect, though, that terms like “safety event” are really just shortened versions of much longer bureaucratic terms, and that the people who use them are very much aware of the irony. Engineers are like that.

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