File this under ‘H’ for “Not necessarily”

Charlotte Allen over at IWF defended her use of “crying rape” in a headline as having a neutral connotation, thus:

Just to clarify: The expression “crying rape” (like “crying murder” or “crying theft”) doesn’t mean the accuser is necessarily a liar. It just means she’s an accuser.

“Crying rape” does not bring the phrases “crying murder” or “crying theft” immediately to my mind (in fact, I’d never heard them used before Ms. Allen did so) but instead, evokes the phrase “crying wolf” from Aesop’s fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf“.

This most definitely does not have a neutral connotation, but a negative one: that of a false claim.

To be completely anal about it, I will do the most heinous of acts and consult a dictionary of the English language:

The Idioms section of The Free Dictionary:

  • cry wolf:
    to ask for help when you do not need it, with the result that no one believes you when help is necessary.
    She had repeatedly rung the police for trivial reasons and perhaps she had cried wolf too often.
    [search link]

Not satisfied? How about these:

  • [], under ‘wolf’: (11) cry wolf, to give a false alarm: Is she really sick or is she just crying wolf?
  • [Merriam Webster], under ‘cry’: cry wolf : to give alarm unnecessarily
  • [Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable], under ‘wolf’: To cry “Wolf!” To give a false alarm. The allusion is to the well-known fable of the shepherd lad who used to cry “Wolf!” merely to make fun of the neighbours, but when at last the wolf came no one would believe him.

Incidentally, I did Google both “crying murder” and “crying theft“, and the connotations were generally negative.

Compare this with some of the phrases captured when googling “crying rape“:

And those are just three of the top ten hits. Imagine if I went through all 130,000 of them.

I’d say there is substantial evidence that the phrase “crying rape” is not as neutral as you make out, Ms. Allen. That may be your intention, but I don’t think that’s how many people interpret it.

You would be correct if you insisted that “the lion’s share” does mean all of it, but if you insist on that meaning, who will now understand you? … Do not be so right that you will be misunderstood. Language is what we make of it by a language convention. — John Ciardi

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