In 1987, one of the most charming films of all time was released. It was a fairytale, but a fairytale designed to entertain adults. “The Princess Bride” has been, and continues to be, a work that brings a smile to almost everyone’s lips, effectively mocking the conventions normally associated with fairytales.
But after 28 years it can be discovered that hidden among the jokes and mockery are the occasional gems of educational wisdom. For those of us who fondly remember the film, we remember that the early part of the story involves three would be criminals who kidnapped the Princess. This trio of ambitious kidnappers was led by Vizzini (played by Wallace Shawn) and was aided by a skilled sword master named Inigo Montoya (delightfully portrayed by Mandy Patinkin) and one of the largest human beings ever to live on the planet, and played by Andre the Giant, who filled the role of Fezzik admirably.
During their effort to escape capture after their semi-successful kidnapping of the Princess, they found themselves to be being pursued by a tenacious man in black. Each time Vizzini was advised by his minions that they were being chased, he quite simply denied the reality as being “inconceivable”, regardless of the evidence before his eyes.
After about the tenth or eleventh time Vizzini declares that something is “inconceivable”, Inigo simply stares at him and pronounces:
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Now you’re probably asking “Why are you telling me this trivia?” It dawned on me recently that Vizzini’s two minions heard the word “inconceivable” again and again and again, and every time it was used it was just as wrong.
We, as Americans, hear an equally ridiculous infusion of words on a daily basis. No, I’m wrong. It’s not just daily, it’s constant. It’s repetitive. And it’s spouted by people who should know better. After all, aren’t our politicians supposed to be intelligent? At least they claim to be intelligent, right?
Yet how many different ways can politicians misuse the words immigrant, emigrant, migrant, immigration, and migration when the five words mean completely different things? When even politicians have trouble misusing those five, they still have the classic “refugees” to fall back upon. Just another chance to lie and mislead.
Let’s just look at the word migration. It is the word most commonly applied to birds, animals, fish and aquatic mammals. It is usually to be interpreted as “to pass periodically from one region or climate to another” in a search for food, or a more survivable climate. The thing to be observed that in migration, it is always a round-trip trek. Birds fly south for the winter, but fly back to where they originated once the spring thaw passes. They never apply for citizenship or a right to vote. They are only visiting. And it is most common to have flocks or herds (or whatever is the appropriate label for large numbers of the same species) to travel together.
Does that sound like the normal, predictable behavior of humans? Animals respond to changes in climate when it affects their sources of food, but huge numbers of animals do not migrate because a couple of new lions have moved into the neighborhood.
So migration shouldn’t apply to huge numbers of humans unless they are looking for a more survivable climate. The main reason that that humans consider survivability to be a cause for relocating is warfare. Humans killing other humans. But when humans fall back on migration for survival, they generally travel in family units, like wife, husband, kids, granny and so on.
It’s a pattern of behavior that anthropologists might call “hunter-gatherers”.
But from photographs of the so-called “migration” of Syrians to Europe, there are very few wives or kids. Just significant numbers of military age males who appear healthy, who would not be confused with “walking-wounded” and while apparently abandoning their families they apparently treat their cell phones as if they were American Express credit cards – “Don’t leave home without it.”
It would therefore be safe to call this massive population that voluntarily relocates in other than family units as something besides migration. They are not migrating.
So perhaps they might be called “refugees”. Maybe.
The word refugee is rooted in the word refuge, or “a place of shelter, protection, or safety”. The even earlier root Latin word was refugium or “turn and run away”. So exactly what are these (mostly) younger, stronger, healthier, phone carrying men running away from? Who or what is threatening them?
In the case of fleeing from Syria, the primary impetus is clearly the civil war in their home country. A civil war that relies on the millennial old conflict between Shi’a and Sunni Muslims. A civil war between two branches of Islam who both, BOTH, claim to be part of the “religion of peace.” Yet the Muslim nations in the region refuse to accept these refugees, although they too belong to the “religion of peace” and are also part of the religion that pats itself on the back again and again for its works of charity.
Viewing all that, one is hard pressed to think that refugees is a better word choice to describe the hoard of young, military aged men crashing on the beaches of Europe with cell phones in hand.
We have one more option that might be more accurate and appropriate to describe these young men. Unfortunately the word is one that politicians are afraid to use, even in a hushed whisper, but it is still more accurate and more descriptive. What should we call this massive relocation of human beings from the middle-east to Europe and conceivably North America? What should we call the individuals who are participating? How about these words: