Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Um, not quite

Just wondering: In our haste to make sure we didn't repeat verbs from the lede or anything untoward like that, did we happen to look this one up?

Don't get us wrong here. Extensions of meaning happen all the time; if we couldn't use words figuratively, we wouldn't get paragraphs like "Nothing would desecrate the Michigan image more than having its hallowed football program subjected to even the tiniest whiff of investigative scrutiny."*

But in this case, "desecrate" has a particular meaning -- to treat as non-sacred, to profane, to "divert from a sacred to a profane purpose," to hear the OED tell it -- that makes it just a tad bit out of tune for vandalizing or defacing (two verbs the story uses) ads placed by atheists.

Was the hed writer being especially witty? Doubtful. For one thing, a deck that boils down to "Group: Group faces prejudice" doesn't signal the sort of deft touch we'd like to associate with a genuinely clever hed. And for another -- OK, if you're going to have a good time, go for it:

Atheist bus ads are consecrated

Sounds a lot closer than "desecrated" to what happened: The buses featured advertisements earlier this month that read: "Don't believe in God? You are not alone." The signage was paid for by a coalition of atheist and agnostic groups. In one ad, the word "Don't" is torn off, according to photographs provided by the group.

We should be clear here: Your Editor neither endorses vandalism nor finds it a priori funny. But you'd like to think that if any organization could crack a moderate smile over "Dude, they snuck in and consecrated your ads" ...

* Not that the world would be a worse place if sports writers were knocked around a little more often.



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