Word of the Week: altercation
Immediately after that news story my friend asked me the definition of altercation. I said I wasn’t sure, but I thought it was a fight -- a physical fight. My friend wasn’t sure, but he tended to agree with me. Both of us agreed that, in any event, “altercation” was vague.
When I got home, I looked altercation up. Here’s how Merriam-webster.com defines it: “a noisy heated angry dispute; also: noisy controversy synonyms: see quarrel.
Clearly, I was wrong in thinking an altercation is a physical fight -- it is verbal. That being the case, it would have been lots clearer (to more listeners, I’d venture to say) had the newscaster simply said the guy got into a heated argument earlier in the evening.
So, the question I couldn't help wonder was why the newscaster didn't use argument instead? Did he think listeners would've thought less of him if he'd used a simpler, more widely-understood word? I don't think many would have minded. Indeed, if anything, I think more listeners would simply have understood what he said and would have listened for the next news item, rather than get distracted (like my friend and I did) trying to figure out what he meant.