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Thursday, 4 September 2014


The English language can play a nasty game on a newspaper editor. One can stitch words together, which on the surface seem to yield a sensible sentence, but which on close examination, amount to a semantic calamity. Such was the case of the millions of refugees, half of whom were displaced.

Refugees. Displaced. Can one be a refugee without being displaced? Or alternatively, can one be displaced, without fitting the description of a refugee? The headline above, seems to suggest there's a distinction between being displaced and being a refugee.

And yet looking through a number of online dictionaries, one notices an almost similar description, meaning-wise.

A refugee is someone who has been forced to leave their country due to war, persecution or natural disaster. A displaced person on the other hand, is one who is forced to leave their home because of war, persecution or natural disaster.

The only difference it seems, is that a refugee is forced to leave their country, while a displaced person is essentially forced to leave their home, not necessarily their country.

Ok, that distinction is now clearer. But still, the article's headline reads:

'Syrian refugees top three million, half of them displaced, says UN.'

Now, say with me slowly:

Syrian refugees are three million. They have all been uprooted from their country. Half of them though, are displaced, meaning out of the 3 million forced to leave their country, 1.5 million have only been forced to leave their homes, but not their country.

Spot the contradictory nonsense?

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