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September 5, 2002 - Finding Words for Sept. 11, Part 1 - 2002-09-04

Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": September 5, 2002
Re-broadcast on VOA News Now: September 8, 2002

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- we look at some of the words chosen to commemorate the first anniversary of the September eleventh terrorist attacks.

GETTYSBURG ADDRESS [Note - the text follows historical records at]: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure."

RS: The president whose words you just heard recited in a recording by country singer Johnny Cash was, of course, Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln wrote the speech to dedicate a cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, in 1863. Tens of thousands of soldiers had died there in a battle considered the turning point of the U-S Civil War.

GETTYSBURG ADDRESS: "We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But in a larger sense we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

AA: The Gettysburg Address, just 272 words long, will be read in New York during the September 11th anniversary observance. Parts of the Declaration of Independence, as well as "The Four Freedoms" speech by President Franklin Roosevelt will also be read. So will the names of the almost three-thousand victims in the World Trade Center towers.

RS: The aim is to avoid any politics. Yet the absence of plans for any original speeches left some disappointed.

JANICE JOSEPHSON: "I guess that the language of terror, the language of horror, is very limited."

RS: Janice Josephson is a suburban New Yorker who volunteers teaching American civics to foreign-born adults. It helps that this retiree has lived through all the major events since the 1920s.

JANICE JOSEPHSON: "You know, you think of the infinite ways of expressing a feeling of love, and we don't have those words to draw on for terror. So we've turned to symbols like the American flag."

RS: Janice Josephson caught our attention when she wrote to the New York Times, opposing the use of the Gettysburg Address to observe the September 11th anniversary.

JANICE JOSEPHSON: "Because the Gettysburg Address was probably the most moving speech given by anyone anywhere in our history. Now for us to use the Gettysburg Address in this context of this tragedy here in New York City seems not only morally wrong, but even though we're so bound by what's politically correct, I think it's totally politically incorrect. Our leaders, if they choose to lead, they have a responsibility that goes beyond taking words that are truly not appropriate for this anniversary commemoration."

AA: "You mention political correctness. What role do you think that is playing right now in the choice of words to use to mark the anniversary?"

JANICE JOSEPHSON: "I think everybody is scared. They don't want to say the wrong thing. They don't want to offend any contingency whatsoever, so it's much safer to use the tried and true. And in the climate that we live in, where sensitivities run as high as they do, that's understandable, but it is really not a solution we would like to see our leaders turn to.

"People aren't trained in rhetoric today, so I don't know quite whether it's the way language is used today, the way language evolves, the shorthand that we use today when we speak. I guess they are all factors that go into it. But I know that eloquence is not a gift of the day."

RS: The thoughts of Janice Josephson, who lives about thirty kilometers from "ground zero." Next week, we'll look at the impact "nine-eleven" has had on American English.

AA: Our Web site is and our e-mail address is With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.