Lately I keep hearing a term getting thrown around by athletes, celebrities, politicians, news reporters, a lot of people. If there was a vote today, right now, the word “unfortunate” might be the new buzzword in town. With how “unfortunate” is being used lately, I wonder if we’ve lost its meaning.

  • “It was an unfortunate tragedy that [NASCAR race car driver Dan] Wheldon’s car crashed.”
  • “It was a series of unfortunate events that we were unable to relieve the economic pressure on our fiscal budget, thus resulting in the sudden job losses.”
  • “I regret my unfortunate actions in the conflict involving police officials on March 26th.”

Call me a cynic but I’m second-guessing the sincerity behind these statements. It isn’t very helpful though to drag out Webster’s definition of unfortunate because this word defines itself: without fortune. It implies that luck and fortune were absent, like scratching a losing lottery ticket. That’s a bummer. What a letdown.

It’s the same wringing-hands, head-shaking shoulder shrug you’d expect from a coach whose team got the crap kicked out of them in a game. “Well, it’s an unfortunate loss.” Unfortunate? Coach, your defense couldn’t stop a nose bleed! Unfortunate is losing the coin toss before kickoff.

I can understand when someone uses “unfortunate” to describe a small disappointment but I cringe when someone uses this word to describe a death like Dan Wheldon’s. He’s remembered as a family man who loved his kids and wife, a great guy to be around. The recent flooding in Bangkok isn’t another “unfortunate” event; it’s a growing tragedy that threatens the lives of millions.

Yes, I’m over-analyzing the use of one word but I want to be careful in what my words are communicating. This is more of a rant to remind myself because labeling other tragedies as “unfortunate” can be an attempt to put a nice cover on the situation. I want to make sure that I’m not putting an understatement on situations that deserve more. I’m wanting to make sure that I’m not using words that will gloss over a bad situation.