Words matter

After tripping over a broken sidewalk slab at last Sunday’s Pacific Palisades Farmer’s Market, some thoughts:

My profound thanks to the Fire Department paramedics for their timely arrival and excellent medical care – and for pointing out that while they were bandaging my wounds three other people had ‘tripped’ over the same slab. Later, Karen K Ford, my as always cool-headed wife, arranged to be dropped off (by our friend Annie Nichols) so we wouldn’t have to make a 2nd trip to pick up my car. And finally our heartfelt thanks to the staff at UCLA’s Westwood Campus Emergency Medical center for their superb professional care.

However – and with all due respect – as a writer, and a teacher of writers I can’t resist taking issue with what I consider the mis-use of a word in their discharge medical report wherein the diagnosis of my condition was: “injuries resulting from stumbling into a fall.”

When asked, what I said to the examing medical practitioner was that “I tripped.” The offending object which “tripped” me was a slab of sidewalk cement raised up by tree roots, causing me to “fall” – which in fact felt as if I were being launched into space by some malevolent though unseen force. This should not have been described as “stumbling” (defined i n Webster’s dictionary as “to stagger because of a false step, to walk unsteadily or clumsily, to speak, act, or perform aything, blunderingly or confusedly, etc.)

To trip, on the other hand, Webster says, is “to cause (Italics mine) someone to stumble.”

Words matter. The difference looms large because saying that those who ‘stumble ‘ and hurt themselves make it seem as if my multiple injuries (abrasion of the upper lip, a protruding tooth (which fortuitously I was able – in my semi stupor – to reset into its socket, plus an abraded kneecap and skinned left thumb and heel of my left palm) were self inflicted. The aftermath 1From iPad 121813 216The aftermath 3In fact, having jogged for more years than I can remember, and now reduced by my rapidly advancing years to fast walking, I always walk at as rapid a pace as circumstances allow, so that when I caught my toe against this particular uprooted sidewalk slab I was hurled forward so unexpectedly fast I was lucky to have got my hands down to break my fall. (Unfortunately, just as I was congratulating myself at having made a safe landing, my face was whiplashed sideways into the cement.)

I was lucky not to have suffered worse injury. But since words do matter: I say I tripped – and thus let there be a correction made to the record, so that no insult be added to the list of injuries.

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