The Washington Post is going to have to sit in the back of the class for a while, because they let this howler slip through to the final version of “ Christians Join Fight Against Cockfighting ”:
Smith’s organization [the Palmetto Family Council] has produced a video that has drawn praise from the Human Society. “ Wonton cruelty toward animals is frankly unbiblical and un-Christian,” Smith says in the video.On the other hand, the anti-cockfighting activists deserve bonus points for using “brutalize” correctly:
In the video, Land says humans are called to “respect every living thing . . . Cockfighting is a pornography of violence. People who watch it are going to be brutalized by it .”Now, I’m not categorically against the evolution of language or organic changes in the definitions of words — wait, what am I saying? Of course I am. But I’m especially against the change in the meaning of “brutalize” from “render brutal” (e.g., “The soldiers razed the village because they had been brutalized by the war”) to “treat brutally” (e.g., “The villagers were brutalized by the soldiers”) because we have plenty of perfectly serviceable terms for the latter action, whereas the former has only a handful of synonyms, none of them exact. “Coarsen” comes close, but doesn’t convey the same gravity and has some interfering class baggage. A gentleman might be coarsened by frequent visits to dive bars, but he would hardly be brutalized by it.
Kingsley Amis considered “brutalize” to have been “rendered unusable” by this development, and I have to agree.