The Compulsive Copyeditor

April 21, 2012

This Is Just Wrong!

Filed under: history of English,language degenerating — amba12 @ 1:17 pm

While copyediting a manuscript today (which needs, among other things, Britishisms translated into American), I came across “on the firing line” used to mean “in the line of fire.”

I had no idea how widespread this misusage was. But it is actually enshrined in the online Free Dictionary:

be in the firing line  (British, American & Australian) also be on the firing line (American & Australian)

if someone or something is in the firing line, they are likely to be criticized, attacked, or got rid of. The judge found himself in the firing line from women’s groups after his controversial comments about sexual assault. Recent cuts in council budgets mean that concessionary fares were next on the firing line.
I wondered if I was the one going crazy, so I looked further and, to my relief, found this:

What does “firing line, on the” mean?

In the forefront of any activity or pursuit, especially a controversy. For example, At the sales conference they asked so many questions that Anne felt she was on the firing line. This expression originally meant the line of positions from which gunfire is directed at a target and is still so used in a military context. Today it is also used more loosely. [Late 1800s]
No shit.
This usage has come adrift from its moorings because wars haven’t been fought that way for a century or more. Who knows anymore what “Hoist with his own petard” means? Yet terrorists do it all the time—even by accident.
I must say I expected better of the Brits.  Expected, at least, more interest in the traces of history still nested in the genome of their language. I forget that, even though they still sound erudite, their accent too is a fossil.  They are becoming as postliterate as we.
P.S. WordPress is going to hell; neither with carriage returns nor with HTML am I able to get the paragraph separation formatting I want in the last part of this post.
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