clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Steinberg: There’s a word for that

Call me a sap. But my heart bleeds for people handing out stuff on the street. Talk about a tough job. The public ignores me, too, but I don’t have to watch them do it. These poor folk have to stand there, like a rock dividing a stream, while indifferent humanity flows around them, spurning whatever pathetic scrap they’re trying to give away, inevitably some green flier about a barbershop opening or a new deli.

Unless of course it’s a mini granola bar. Samples! Then a crowd forms as if they’ve never eaten, reaching out with one hand while pointing at their open mouths with the other, going “Oh! Oh! Oh!”

Food or flier, I grab their offering as a matter of principle: What’s the harm? And sometimes I am rewarded, such as with a small, ticket-sized coupon: “roti: MEDITERRANEAN GRILL. Win Roti every day for a year.”

Cool. Prizes. I eat there. Decent salads. On the back, under “Random Acts of Roti,” four instructions: 1) Go to a website. 2) Enter a password. 3) “Write Down Prize Code.” and 4. “Bring this card to Roti for free Food or Drink!”

OK. It’s a quiet day. So I go to their site. It wants my name, email address.

I enter my info, and am informed I have won a free fountain drink.

Hmmm . . . I usually don’t even order a fountain drink. But all right. I take my coupon to Roti, meeting a buddy for lunch last week. While we wait in line, I explain my sense of violation at surrendering my precious data only to have Roti spit some cola on my shirtfront: I had been hoping for rice pudding.

“Information rape,” he laughs. I’d never heard that phrase.

“Is that a thing?” I wonder. He’s younger. Maybe he has a handle on the lingo.

“No, it was just something I said.”

Information rape. That seems a useful concept to toss into the ether, to describe dupes who fork over their data and get little in return.

I immediately felt the chill. While “rape” in my Oxford Dictionary is defined first as “The action or an act of taking a thing by force, esp. violent seizure of property” and doesn’t mention forced sex until the third definition, that won’t help me when I’m dragged into the electronic public square by angry feminists ready to deliver punishment for seizing their word and re-purposing it.

I understand their argument: You’re watering down a horror to give oomph to the commonplace. I wince whenever any random bad thing is described as a “holocaust,” and Michelle Obama’s push against obesity becomes a genocide of fat people.

But I don’t fall ravening upon them. It’s a free country, sort of. People are allowed to use language. I think the delicacy over what the newspaper requires me to call “the N-word” is an insult to black people and an affront to history that we’ll look back on someday and cringe, the way we view Victorians putting skirts on piano legs.

Yet how could that argument stand up against somebody’s pain? Somebody looking to offload that pain, and what better recipient than a person who seems insensitive? I don’t want to be that guy. And yet. If I say I’m crazy for the Bulls, people coping with the mental illnesses of their loved ones will complain they’re being insulted. Best to tread carefully. When it comes to those trying to share their anger, as with people handing out fliers, I sympathize with their plight too much not to just take it with a silent nod and keep walking.

CORRECTION: In Wednesday’s column on the fall of Saigon, I giddily reported that Lyndon Johnson was the only president not to seek a second term, somehow overlooking James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Rutherford B. Hayes, Calvin Coolidge and Harry Truman. I did fact check, or thought I did, but bobbled that in a manner too involved to be worth recounting. Nor did I realize it was Eisenhower who first sent advisers to Vietnam, in 1955. I regret these errors.