I've been writing and doing public relations for a long time and with that comes a great respect for the power of carefully chosen language as well as a very good BS detector.
I have heard it said more than once since the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster began over a month ago that "spill" is not the right word to describe what was happening.
Spill can mean a lot of things, but the correct definition goes something like, "To cause or allow (a substance) to run or fall out of a container."
That doesn't describe what is happening in the Gulf, as there is no container from which the oil is spilling. Unless the massive underground natural reservoir of oil sitting 20,000 feet below the ocean's surface is considered a container - which would also be incorrect as well because a container by definition is, "a receptacle, such as a carton, can, or jar, in which material is held or carried."
But my point isn't as much that we should all get a slap on the hand from our third-grade English teacher for using incorrect words (even though as writers we should always strive to use language correctly).
My point is that it is quite a coup for BP to have such a massive disaster on its hands to be described as a "spill" - a word that implies accidental and minor in scale. "Oops I spilled my milk" comes to most people's mind.
I doubt it was an intentional piece of spindoctoring by BP, but they sure as heck haven't pointed out that the term "spill" is not only a technically incorrect, and massively understates the grand scale of the situation the company is dealing with.
So from this point forward, in all my writing on the oil spill, which sadly looks like it will be a daily task for at least the entire summer, I will no longer describe the Gulf of Mexico disaster as a "spill."
At the least, I will sleep better knowing I am not making my English teachers unhappy and at best I will be properly communicating the level of devastation and the seriousness of the situation.
Problem is, what should it be described as? The Gulf of Mexico tragedy? The Gulf disaster? The oily nightmare in the Gulf? The BP Disaster? The giant blob from hell that wouldn't have happened if we had offshore wind farms instead of offshore oil rigs?
What do you think is the perfect phrase or word that describes the Gulf of Mexico disaster correctly?
Follow Kevin Grandia on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kgrandia