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Are we through saying “Ground Zero”?

Ground Zero

Recently, Michele Bachmann referred to “ground zero” at a campaign stop in Iowa. Only she wasn’t talking about the World Trade Center or 9/11. Here’s what she said:

“This is ground zero in Ames Iowa for making Barack Obama a one term president.”

(Source: O. Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa.)

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, with skyscrapers rising at the World Trade Center site and the 9/11 Memorial about to open, are we finally ready to stop calling the place “Ground Zero”? Signs point to yes—including the fact that a conservative candidate for president is willing to use the phrase “Ground Zero” to refer to something as banal as the Iowa straw poll.

I’m not sure who first called the World Trade Center site “Ground Zero,” but the phrase was in wide circulation within a few days of September 11, 2001; it appeared in newspapers the next day. It was a peculiar nickname—the term had usually been associated with atomic blasts—but it was what everybody called it.

“Ground Zero” has never been an official name; the site remained “World Trade Center” on most maps. And it’s not a neutral term. “Ground Zero” works to rally political or military enthusiasm in cases where using “World Trade Center” would sound flat. Last year, during the debate about the Islamic cultural center two blocks from the site, opponents called it (inaccurately) the “Ground Zero Mosque.” That nickname resonated so strongly the Associated Press had to issue an advisory asking its staff to stop using it.

Michele Bachmann is a far-right Republican, and fits the mold of people who politicize the World Trade Center site. But on this issue, she diverges from the script followed by her fellow candidates for president. You don’t hear her talk much about 9/11. To her, “Ground Zero” is just another phrase. You can have a “ground zero” anywhere. Even Iowa.

Does this make Bachmann out-of-touch on national security? Or is she looking forward, and setting a trend with her choice of words? And if the latter, does this shift in language mean the country is starting to look beyond 9/11?

Photo: World Trade Center Site, June 14, 2011.

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Related post: Why the AP Style Guide is wrong about “ground zero”

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under News & Journalism, Politics

One comment

  1. Michael T. says:

    I say ’bout time. Ground Zero was a great phrase representing any place where something was strongest.

    ground ze·ro – Noun
    1. The point on the earth’s surface directly above or below an exploding nuclear bomb.
    2. A starting point or base for some activity.

    So San Francisco is ground zero for internet startups. Harlem was ground zero for jazz musicians.

    It was a good phrase, and 9/11 we thought for sure had hijacked it forever.

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