Above all, I object to the abuse of the word tragedy. Every time some asshole stops breathing these days it’s called a tragedy. The word has been devalued. You can’t call every death a tragedy and expect the word to mean anything. For instance, multiple deaths do not automatically qualify as tragedies. Just because a man kills his wife and three kids, her lover, his lover, the babysitter, the mailman, the Amway lady and the guy from Publisher’s Clearing House and then blows his own brains out doesn’t mean a tragedy has occurred. It’s interesting. It’s entertaining to read about. But it’s not a tragedy.

The death of a child is also not automatically a tragedy. Some guy backing over his kid in the driveway is not a tragedy, it’s a bad, bad mistake. A tragedy is a literary work in which the main character comes to ruin as a consequence of a moral weakness or a fatal flaw. Shakespeare wrote tragedies. A family of nine being wiped out when a train hits their camper is not a tragedy. It’s called a traffic accident.

— George Carlin


Listen to George, people. He speaks the truth.

I don’t recall where I last saw an instance of the word being misused like this – after all, it’s hard to go a day without hearing at least one – but it reminded me of that rant. I would add that one of the crucial characteristics of an actual tragedy is fate or destiny. It’s pretty much inevitable that things would turn out as they did, and extra poignancy derives from the crushing self-awareness a character experiences as the grinning unknown makes itself apparent to them.

Yet the popular usage tends to refer to incidents notable precisely for the fact that they coulda/shoulda/woulda been avoided if only… Accidents, in other words, as the man already said. Not tragedies.

For god’s sake, stop it.