Another week, another series of school and university shootings in the US, and another chance to hear phrases such as “active shooter” and “campus lockdown” repeated over and over by police, school administrators and journalists. These phrases – chilling in their clinicalness – are not only stark examples of the militarization of the language of everyday life, but also reminders of how the language used to describe actual US military aggression has been influenced by the neutral, image-conscious world of public relations.
What makes expressions such as “active shooter” and “campus lockdown” so disturbing is not just the regularity with which they are now uttered and written, but the huge disconnect between their militaristic tone and the contexts of their use. These are phrases you would associate with war, not university campuses dedicated to the enlightenment of our youngest residents. There is a particular, macabre horror in places of learning being converted into battlefields, and that horror is only intensified when the words used to describe it are so brazenly militaristic. “Active shooter,” in particular, is both striking and absurd. If there are “active shooters” are there also “inactive shooters”? Are we all potentially active shooters in the making?