Whatever Happened to “Arrested”?

By Maeve Maddox

Does anyone remember when drug dealers were arrested and not “busted?” Or when a robbery mentioned on the evening news was a “robbery” and not a “heist?”

Slang, especially underworld slang, has its place, but its place is probably not in what is supposed to be the arena of objective reporting.

I grew up in a horse-racing town so I was familiar with the sight of men with promotional fliers in their hats, crowding the sidewalks in front of the track, accosting fans as they entered. These men were called “touts” and what they were doing was “touting” their picks for the day’s card. Now, when I hear a reporter say that the President is on the road “touting” his latest plan for the country, I can’t help thinking that the reporter wishes to imply that there is something shady about the plan being “touted.”

When I first heard about the newly-created office of “Drug Czar,” I was incredulous. To my mind, a “drug czar” denotes a drug trafficker, not a law enforcement official. Since then, I’ve heard the expression “education czar.” To me the connotation of “czar” is a negative one. According to what I’ve read, many generations of the Russian imperial family used the national revenues to collect art and build palaces while their people starved in shacks. I still feel that “czar” is not an appropriate designation for someone who is supposed to be working for the public good.

Mind you, all these words–busted, heist, czar, and tout–can be colorful additions to a writer’s vocabulary. The careful writer, however, will weigh the connotations of such words before using them to imply something that may not be intended.

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8 Responses to “Whatever Happened to “Arrested”?”

  • Gwen >> My Relationship Resume

    Reading this makes me wish that we had “SlangCheck.” Knowing that “busted” is not exactly polite is easy. However, I would not have imagined that “heist” or “tout” have questionable origins for objective writing.

  • Aleksey

    Well, in Russia there is nothing negative to the word “czar”. Even communists back then had respect for some of the czars, judging by how many soviet movies actually whitewashed their historic image.

    Moreover the word czar doesn’t usually associate with actual czars, most of them were officially not czars (term obsoleted by establishment of Russia as an empire) but emperors.

    More frequently “czar” associates with czar pushka (czar cannon), czar kolokol (czar bell), depiction of czars in Soviet/Russian movies, animation, tales. And it is usually humorous depiction and thus not negative at all.

    Also there are no derivatives or uses of word czar in Russian which have negative meaning (apart from “czarism” coined by communistic propaganda). For example, there is nothing like “drug czar” in Russian, but rather “narcobaron”(drug baron). Or as another example, adjective czarskiy (kinglike) doesn’t have negative subtext at all (like “overly excessive” or “overly formal”) and is used widely as a compliment(e.g. “thanks for czarskiy welcome” (spasibo za czarskiy priem)).

    Sorry if my comment sounds too nit picky. Overall, this post is insightful. And this blog is extremely helpful for someone like me, a person without even semi-decent fluency in English and devoid of any innate writing ability, altogether. Thanks!

  • Daniel

    Aleksey, thanks for the comment, your certain bring another perspective for the discussion.

    In Brazil and in Italy we do learn some negative stuff about the Czars in “Russian History” classes. That is as far as I can say.

    But your point is interesting nonetheless.

  • Maeve

    Thanks for your informative comment, Aleksey. Language is so entwined with culture that it often expresses cultural prejudices. Another example is the English expression “to take French leave.” Originating in the 18th century, it means to go away without permission, as, for example, a soldier absenting himself from duty, what Americans call “going AWOL.” In French the same idea is expressed by **filer à l’anglaise**, “to run away in the English fashion.”

  • dalas

    If only people would check with you first before they did or said anything, the world would be so great.

    This article makes you sound like you’re trying to get Andy Rooney’s job after he retires.

  • Maeve

    Since you mention it, I can almost hear Andy’s voice in that opening paragraph! I’d guess his job pays pretty well.

  • Stephen Thorn

    Maeve, I agree about the use of “czar” and its derogatory connotations in many parts of the world (with a tip of my hat to Aleksey). Like yourself, I loathe seeing it used as a title for some government official who may be planning to “stick it to me” someway. Unfortunately, a significant portion of the earth’s population alive today has no real concept of the horrors that existed under despotic or totalitarian rule, or how socialism crushes individuality and personal initiative; consequently, they pay no attention to the threat that the emergence of socialism presents to our modern Western world. To these vacuous dunderheads, distracted by the passing parade of grotesquerie that our puppetmasters show us to prevent us from thinking too much, anything that happened before their birth is as ancient as dinosaurs (and equally as extinct and unimportant). They don’t know “czar” from “kiddie car” and really couldn’t care less.

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