Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Death of Tragedy

Or rather the death of ‘Tragedy’, the word. It has the delightful Greek etymology ‘Goat Song’, which I could explain, but not just now. Strictly, a tragedy is a dramatic work in which a fatal flaw in the protagonist’s character leads by an apparently inevitable series of events to his or her downfall and usually death. Of course, we can use the word metaphorically to mean any series of events, or just its denouement, ending in disaster. But more and more, the word is being used to describe — or rather to completely fail to describe — any seriously unfortunate event. An aeroplane disappears or is shot down with all its passengers and crew, and everyone, from the President of the United States down (or up) mutters ‘Tragedy, tragedy.’ A beautiful word with a clear meaning is being reduced to a mere phatic utterance of regret. This is called ‘Development of the language’, and any who resist it are accused of wanting the English language to become a dead one, its words inscribed on tablets of stone.

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