When we first linked to a story about this creature, we were sharing a familiar story of introduced and invasive species and a creative approach to controlling the spread. We have favored entrepreneurial approaches, so that culinary story from Japan fit perfectly in our pages. But we also have been equally attentive to word matters since we started on this platform. So Matthew Alt’s coverage of this story, demonstrating how much words matter, also fits perfectly in our pages:
Do “Murder Hornets” Really Exist?
The answer hinges on a peculiarity of the Japanese language.
In the Old Testament, God wrought ten plagues upon humanity. In modern times, we have our hands full with just one: covid-19. Or so we thought, until it was reported, in the May 2nd edition of the Times, that a new pestilence is afoot. “Murder hornets” with “mandibles shaped like spiked shark fins,” we were told, were descending upon North America from their native habitat of Asia. Within twenty-four hours, the hashtag #murderhornets was trending on Twitter, fuelled by all the excitement befitting what sounds like a newly discovered species of homicidal Pokémon. Sensing a rare non-virus viral story, major media outlets ranging from the Washington Post to Fox News pounced. They began amplifying the insect threat with their own details, many of them simply rephrased from the original piece; by the middle of last week, Jimmy Fallon was interviewing a “murder hornet” in costume on “The Tonight Show.” (“Look, we’re just regular old bees who happen to make things fall asleep forever.”)
This is a familiar story of how trending topics drive the modern news cycle, but it’s also a testament to the power of a catchy label. Continue reading