Choice of words: What is the most accurate definition of what is happening in the United States?

Top Confusing Words Learning English | Learn English Live 35 with Steve Ford

Choice of words: What is the most accurate definition of what is happening in the United States?

Protests, riots or riots? What is the name of what is happening now in America, and why one definition is clearly not enough? Journalist, philologist Ksenia Turkova is looking for the right word

Any event has a name, or a nomination. The choice of this name determines the light in which this event appears before us. In other words, by endowing him with a name, we give him character, which means we can influence how everyone else will perceive what is happening..

When events such as what we see now in the United States take place, journalists bear a special responsibility: they must choose a word that will describe what is happening most accurately, without cutting off important components from it..

What is happening now?

Photo by Vladimir Badikov

The most neutral word that we see in both American and Russian sources, — protests. Indeed, the protest — this is what it all started with, a protest against police brutality, police brutality against the black population of the United States. This is a precise and neutral word: “Strong outrage, official disclaimer”. However, this word accurately describes only the first phase of what is happening. But does it fit with what began to happen after?

Now, after we have all seen the smashed shop windows, acts of violence and vandalism, the nomination “protest” loses one hundred percent accuracy. It reflects only the basis of what is happening and one — albeit the most important — its component.

There are protesters who come out for peaceful purposes, hold posters, express their anger and outrage — but not using violence. And there is some other force that trashes and robs shops.

Photo by Vladimir Badikov

Calling what is happening solely as a protest, we cut off this destructive component, as if removing one syllable from the name. And calling all this, for example, a pogrom, as the Russian press often does, we cut off the protest, ideological component — we remove its basis from the event.

Interestingly, the word pogrom is also in English, it got into it precisely from the Slavic languages ​​with the meaning “pogroms against a certain ethnic group, in particular Jews”. However, in the American press and even in social media I have not come across the word pogrom. Now it is actively used only by the Russian press, thus creating a certain image of the event itself and its participants. — bandits, not peaceful protesters.

Let’s look at other nominations. What if what is happening is called a riot? It has both a protest component and a spontaneous, destructive one. It seems to be exactly. However, this word cannot be called accurate either. In Russian, the word “riot” immediately connects with Pushkin’s continuation: senseless and merciless. This means that in Russian, the destructive component in the word “riot” outweighs constructive.

By the way, it is interesting that this word, although it seems Russian, is actually borrowed: it got into the Russian language from German through Polish. Riot — it literally “bundle, union”, and, as a rule, an alliance of conspirators. In Russian culture, the rebellion was associated precisely with a conspiracy, a rebellion.


Word “mutiny”, by the way, it also has a strong associative link in Russian and “requires” continuation: “Mutiny can’t end in luck — otherwise his name is different”.

In English, riot — it’s riot. A word familiar to the Russian audience by the name of a punk band “Pussy Riot”. However, American journalists are trying to handle this word with extreme caution in relation to current events. Riot — it is a crime, a responsibility of a special kind. Demonstrations, performances in the end can really grow into riot, but this definition should come from the police, who have a certain scale of what is happening. If law enforcement does not use the term riot, it will be considered not entirely correct in journalistic materials..

It is worth noting, however, that last Monday, the Washington police issued a press release with the following wording: it dealt with the arrests of citizens accused of felony riot acts, that is, participation in a riot / insurrection.

There is one more word left — disorder. Maybe it’s the most accurate? “Disorder” don’t sound as judgmental as “riot” or “pogrom”, they only say that chaos has begun on the streets. However, this word cannot be called a one hundred percent hit. Word “disorder” deprives what is happening of the original idea, base — it turns out that this is just some kind of crowd that took to the streets, interferes with people’s lives (that is, order turns into disorder), chaotically smashes everything in a row, makes the situation unsafe.

Photo by Vladimir Badikov

In the American press, the word riots — unrest, disturbance — also occurs, however, the English counterparts are less expressive in themselves, they denote a kind of restlessness, excitement. For example, here’s the CBS News headline: “Protests, unrest and unrest as a response to the death of George Floyd”. All the components of the event are listed here, in addition, they are located in the title in the form of a gradation, that is, they reflect how the events developed..

And here is the title “New York Times”: “How a once-riot city maintains a peaceful protest”. Here we see the opposition of words and events — riots of the 1960s and the current protest, during which nothing was destroyed or arrested in Newark, New Jersey.


In other words, now what is happening in the United States does not have one name, there is no word that would contain everything: both the one from which it all began and the one into which it all poured out; both constructive and destructive component. These are protests that have become accompanied by riots; protests, during which there are acts of vandalism and violence, and in a sense, a rebellion against the system. But to choose from all this only one word and be limited exclusively to it — means to deprive this heterogeneous event of many important components.

World news