What Exactly Does the Dow Experience?

From an unlikely source comes another usage peeve: Christa Tippet, host of the NPR show “Speaking of Faith” (at 7 a.m. Saturday morning, the only talk radio available as I sort clothes for the laundry) mentioned, at the top of the hour, that the Dow Jones “experienced” a precipitous drop. (She and her guest went on to tie together economic and personal depression as responses to high-flying ways, confirming the view that our society is essentially bipolar.) This was the umpteenth time recently that I’d heard about a non-sentient entity “experiencing” something—e.g., my cable company was “experiencing” service disruptions, or Amtrak was “experiencing” delays.

Well, no. Actually, we’re the ones who experience these things. The Dow drops, and we experience dismay, fear, a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach. Cable service is disrupted, the train is delayed, and we experience frustration, or worse.

According to Dictionary.com Unabridged v1.1 (based on the Random House Unabridged Dictonery 2006), to experience is “to have experience of; meet with; undergo; feel: to experience nausea.” The example ties it right in to sentience, “the capacity for sensation or feeling” (same source). Some people who work at Amtrak or the cable company may experience the disruption or delay, especially if they deal with the public or the equipment. But not the companies themselves.

Is the imputing of feeling to abstract entities some kind of usage creep, or just sloppiness? It’s so widespread that it’s clearly on the way to becoming common, as hopefully did years ago, despite the best efforts of the usage curmudgeons.

But in this case, it’s not ordinary people but corporations that are engaging in obfuscation. Personally, I’m inclined to think it’s an attempt to garner our sympathy—how can we be mad at them if they’re experiencing the problem, too? It reminds me of the curious fact that, under the law, corporations are treated as people—sentient beings—who have First Amendment rights to free speech under the Constitution.

But of course they’re not people; they’re entities. The people who work in the corporations generally don’t have free-speech rights with respect to their jobs. In the larger corporations there are strict rules about what can and cannot be said; generally speaking, virtually everything that goes on inside the corporation is considered confidential, not to be revealed to anyone outside, or to anyone inside it who is not privy to the knowledge. Saying the wrong thing can get you canned.

George Bush and his cronies have basically been running the government like a corporation, mounting a sustained attack on citizens’ freedom of speech and denying habeas corpus to detainees on the grounds of national security. They haven’t appeared to care whether or not they’ve had our sympathy as they experienced the Iraq war—certainly they’re impervious to protest. Of course the problem is that most of us haven’t really experienced the Iraq war, either. Unless we’ve had a friend or family member in the service, our experience has been purely vicarious, or moral. The point is that most of us do feel something about it; the government, being an entity and not a person, does not.

One Response to “What Exactly Does the Dow Experience?”

  1. The Usage Curmudgeon - New Entry « Beyond the Zeitgeist Says:

    […] Well, no. Actually, we’re the ones who experience these things. The Dow drops, and we experience dismay, fear, a sinking feeling in the pit of our stomach. Cable service is disrupted, the train is delayed, and we experience frustration, or worse. Read on… […]

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