Exterminate! 
Posted: 26 October 2013 01:35 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Over here in England’s green and pleasant land, the Government is trying to control bovine tuberculosis by culling badgers, which are a vector for the disease. This is a highly controversial policy, and resistance to it is led by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (itself a highly controversial and political body, these days). The RSPCA has just been rapped over the knuckles by the Advertising Standards Agency for publishing an advertisement with the headline ‘Vaccinate or Exterminate?‘; this of course is factually untrue as there is no intention to wipe out the species, only control its numbers. According to The Times (which annoyingly is subscription-only online, so you’re going to have to take my word for it), the RSPCA defended the use of the word exterminate by saying that ‘the word was commonly used to mean killing on a massive scale’.

Is it? I honestly don’t believe I’ve ever heard or seen exterminate used in that sense; to my ears the word always carries the clear meaning ‘wipe out, extirpate’. What does everyone else think?

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Posted: 26 October 2013 03:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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The OED entry for exterminate is over a century old and thus no good for determining current usage. But the Shorter Oxford Dictionary (2007) defines it as:

destroy utterly, kill, (a person or other living thing); kill all the members of (a race, sect, nation, etc.); make extinct; put a complete end to (an opinion).

No mention of “to kill in large numbers.”

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Posted: 26 October 2013 12:47 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Ideologues do tend to go in for hyperbole as when PETA unforgivably juxtaposed photos of animal carcasses and Holocaust victims and lost a lot of support as a result.

But when the Daleks cried “Exterminate!” were they referring to their immediate targets or were they expressing a longterm policy regarding the entire human race? (I always loved those Daleks except for the toilet-unblocking appendage.) Exterminate! is far more memorable than Destroy! or Kill!

Googling “insect exterminators” mainly throws up pest control companies and devices for killing limited numbers of insects/pests. Perhaps you can exterminate all the badgers within a given area.

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Posted: 26 October 2013 08:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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When you call for a pest exterminator, you only hope they destroy the pests at your property, not eradicate the species…

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Posted: 26 October 2013 11:38 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Anybody who is disseminating propaganda, uses words after the manner of Humpty Dumpty (“when I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less”). One lot wants to kill 70% of all badgers without getting anybody upset—so they call killing “culling”, which doesn’t sound nearly as drastic. The other lot want to prevent killing of badgers altogether if possible, so they use the nastiest word for “killing” that they can think of, and appear to suggest that “vaccinate” is a viable alternative strategy. I don’t know if vaccination (of whom? Badgers? Cattle? Humans?) really is a viable alternative strategy. Does anybody?

In the world of PR, Humpty Dumpty is King.

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Posted: 27 October 2013 02:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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When you call for a pest exterminator, you only hope they destroy the pests at your property, not eradicate the species…

But you hope they destroy all the pests at your property (i.e., the “nation” of pests that lives on your property). You’re seeking to utterly destroy a population. There is nothing about extermination that requires it to be global.

Lionello’s point is a good one. I find the difference in the British and US speech laws fascinating. This would never be legal issue in the States, where advertising is largely unregulated. False claims about a product will get you in trouble, and certain classes of products that are highly regulated, notably pharmaceuticals, have tight restrictions on what ads must and cannot say, but short of libel, obscenity, or advocating the violent overthrow of the government, public service and political ads are free to say pretty much anything.

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Posted: 27 October 2013 04:30 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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To be fair the Advertising Standard Authority has no statutory powers of enforcement, so theoretically the RSPCA could tell the ASA to go pee up a rope. Most advertisers do however toe the line and it’s certainly true that there’s a chill on press and speech freedoms in the British air at the moment.

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