You can call the 180-page rantings of the man who allegedly killed 10 people at a Buffalo grocery store a lot of things: racist, unhinged, delusional, vile.

But don’t call it a manifesto.

Which is to say: Don’t do what nearly every news outlet under the sun did, including CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NBC News, CBS News, the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Guardian, the Atlantic, Politico, Newsweek, Time, Vanity Fair, and yes, the Philadelphia Inquirer.

If you do, you risk glorifying the writing and paving the way for the next would-be terrorist.

Manifesto is one of those words for which some dictionaries only scratch the surface.

Merriam-Webster’s manifesto definition is bare-bones: “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer.” I love Merriam-Webster, but this definition sucks: It is too broad to be useful. An identical definition could apply to a word like thesis — that thing you were taught to put at the beginning of every research paper or essay you ever wrote — which carries very different weight.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives more helpful context: “A public declaration or proclamation, written or spoken; esp. a printed declaration, explanation, or justification of policy issued by a head of state, government, or political party or candidate, or any other individual or body of individuals of public relevance, as a school or movement in the Arts.” Not bad, except for that annoying capitalization of Arts. As a second definition, the OED offers: “In extended use: a book or other work by a private individual supporting a cause, propounding a theory or argument, or promoting a certain lifestyle.”

Which of these OED definitions best applies to the Buffalo shooter?

If it’s the first one, the alleged shooter, whose name we are not using to avoid further elevating his ideas, seeks to be an “individual … of public relevance” — a status we’d rather not grant him. If it’s the second, then his screed’s propoundment of the “great replacement” theory — a racist assertion that white people are being “replaced” in America and Europe by nonwhites — suddenly becomes a “cause,” and we also shouldn’t grant him that.

Either way, calling his writing a manifesto elevates the Buffalo shooter to what some might consider a hero.

A couple of folks — NPR, the Associated Press, and, believe it or not, Tucker Carlson — deserve credit for rejecting the manifesto label. But for very different reasons.

One day after the shooting, NPR published an article explaining why it wouldn’t use the word manifesto: “Not using the word ‘Manifesto’ in no way deprives our audience of information, it helps deprive the shooter of the platform he was looking for.” The next day, the AP tweeted that it doesn’t describe racist diatribes as manifestos because, “It glorifies racist hatred. Other terms such as diatribe, screed or writings can work instead.”

Carlson rejects the manifesto label as well, but only because it doesn’t fit a narrow part of the OED definition: “The document is not recognizably left-wing or right-wing; it’s not really political at all. The document is crazy,” says Carlson, who has repeatedly pushed “great replacement” nonsense on his millions of viewers — possibly including the shooter.

So Carlson’s biggest objection is that the Buffalo shooter’s racist screed was … not enough of a well-formed argument?

It’s fortunate that Carlson isn’t glorifying the shooter’s hateful, racist nonsense. But the shooter glorifying Carlson’s hateful, racist nonsense isn’t much better.

The Grammarian, otherwise known as Jeffrey Barg, looks at how language, grammar, and punctuation shape our world, and appears biweekly. Send comments, questions, and clitics to jeff@theangrygrammarian.com.


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