Tag Archives: noun for casual

The chance of a link between casual and casualty


A scene from the popular British TV soap “Casualty”

Bloomberg View reported earlier this week that “U.S. Exaggerates Islamic State Casualties”, and a headline in the Detroit News read: “Marine casualties from Fla. helicopter crash identified”. The context of the statements leaves us in no doubt about what is meant by the word casualty here: it’s being used in its most extreme and tragic sense — to signify death. (In its plural form it’s commonly used to denote the death-count from a war or accident.)

We also meet the word casualty in a slightly different incarnation. “The unseen casualties of Japan’s lost decades suffer in silence”, reported Sahoko Kaji recently in the Financial Times, and “The Journalistic Casualties of The Guardian’s Erroneous Whisper Story” was a headline in New York magazine a few days ago. Again there’s no ambiguity here in the sense of the word, which can also refer to someone injured (in a war or accident) or a person or thing lost in or badly affected by an event or phenomenon. (In the UK there’s an additional meaning: you go to “casualty” — just as an American might head to the ER — for treatment after an accident or emergency.)

Now let’s turn to the adjective casual, so close in spelling to the ominous noun, and suddenly the mood is lifted. Whether it describes something happening by chance (i.e. not planned or expected), informal (i.e. calling for ordinary dress or behavior), or done without much thought, effort or concern, the word seems very far away in meaning or nuance from the mortal or grave sense of casualty, which is invariably associated with disaster. Can the words possibly be related? Continue reading