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Thread: Pet Peeve: "In the wrong place at the wrong time."

  1. #1
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    Pet Peeve: "In the wrong place at the wrong time."

    Once again, I hear this phrase applied to the innocent victims of a crime. From President Bush's speech today at the Virginia Tech memorial service:

    Yesterday began like any other day. Students woke up, and they grabbed their backpacks and they headed for class. And soon the day took a dark turn, with students and faculty barricading themselves in classrooms and dormitories confused, terrified, and deeply worried. By the end of the morning, it was the worst day of violence on a college campus in American history and for many of you here today, it was the worst day of your lives.

    It's impossible to make sense of such violence and suffering. Those whose lives were taken did nothing to deserve their fate. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now they're gone and they leave behind grieving families, and grieving classmates, and a grieving nation.


    The students and professors killed by the gunman were NOT in the wrong place at the wrong time. They were exactly where they were supposed to be. It almost sounds like they're being blamed for not having skipped class. It was the murderer who was completely in the wrong. He was bent on committing a murder-suicide and didn't have the good sense to do it in the right order (kill himself first).

    I suppose if a person were walking down the street and got killed by a reentering toilet seat from a Russian space station ("Dead Like Me" reference to those who may not have seen the show), then "wrong place at the wrong time might apply." I just don't see that phrase applying to an innocent crime victim.

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    They were in the right place at the wrong time?

    Okay, here's my pet peeve along those same lines: There was an accident this morning on the 405...

    No such thing. Computers don't make mistakes, and people don't have traffic accidents. Traffic laws are written such that: If all the traffic laws were obeyed all the time, there would never be any collisions.

    Every "accident" is the result of at least one driver disobeying at least one traffic law.

    Take this one.

    The driver was "accidentally" going 91 mph?


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    Some accidents are caused by mechanical failures... and not always due to negligence.

    I agree that "wrong place at the wrong time" seems a little grating in this case. I don't think, however, that any implication of fault on the part of the victims is intended. What's really meant is that the victims were ill-fated, that they just happened to be the ones who encountered the shooter. Just the opposite of blaming the victims.

    I'm not sure how better to express this in English. Our culture doesn't put much stock in the notion of fate (in the sense of inevitability), and I agree with that. Nor do we shrug off such events as "kismet" or "meant to be". With a few revolting exceptions, we no longer see these events as "God's judgment". So what words are appropriate?

    "Just coincidence"? "Terribly bad luck"? "Twist of fate"? None of those really strikes me as much better than "wrong place at the wrong time."

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Wilson View Post
    They were in the right place at the wrong time?

    Okay, here's my pet peeve along those same lines: There was an accident this morning on the 405...

    No such thing. Computers don't make mistakes, and people don't have traffic accidents. Traffic laws are written such that: If all the traffic laws were obeyed all the time, there would never be any collisions.

    Every "accident" is the result of at least one driver disobeying at least one traffic law.

    Take this one.

    The driver was "accidentally" going 91 mph?

    So skidding on a patch of black ice or being startled by a rock getting kicked up into the windshield is the driver's fault?

    You can't predict and avoid every bad thing in the world. It's a simple fact of life.

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    Political Content removed by moderator. User RalofTyr is warned against such statements, regardless of how heartfelt they may be.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RalofTyr View Post
    ... removed by moderator for political content
    I wouldn't call him an idot per se, it's more a case of him being really good on his home turf but not understanding that he has no real insight into anyone else's.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Jacks View Post
    I suppose if a person were walking down the street and got killed by a reentering toilet seat from a Russian space station ("Dead Like Me" reference to those who may not have seen the show), then "wrong place at the wrong time might apply." I just don't see that phrase applying to an innocent crime victim.
    I understand your point--I had the same reaction to the phrase when I heard a replay of Bush's speech. I said, hey, they were in the right place--school.

    But I don't understand why you'd then approve of it's use in the toilet seat example. Walking down the street is the wrong place?

    It's just a colloquialism, like "head over heels"? Or being "turned into Swiss cheese."

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    Obviously it's just a figure of speech. I can't believe you would waste your time analysing Bush's speech for its use of grammar!

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    I would suggest we leave Bush out of this discussion, it is too close to the political limits of this forum.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Wilson View Post
    They were in the right place at the wrong time?

    Okay, here's my pet peeve along those same lines: There was an accident this morning on the 405...

    No such thing. Computers don't make mistakes, and people don't have traffic accidents. Traffic laws are written such that: If all the traffic laws were obeyed all the time, there would never be any collisions.

    Every "accident" is the result of at least one driver disobeying at least one traffic law.

    Take this one.

    The driver was "accidentally" going 91 mph?

    I always thought it meant that the rusults were unintentional, the driver at fault didn't mean for the crash to happen.

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    Larry, I know what you mean. That one is a close second to my major pet peeve.

    No, the one that really, really cheeses me, is (Don't look Gillian) when some poor nutjob gets shot to death by police "and authorities say he wasn't taking his medication" I get sputtering mad. Since when are doctors, "princes, popes or potentates"?

    I have a brain injury that gives me seizures. If I was still taking all the stuff they wanted me too I'd be a drooling idiot consigned to a nursing home. It almost happened in '85. But I'd be seizure free! That's all that's important, right?

    I could so go on a multi-page rant here.
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    The state of medicine has improved some in the last 22 years, Don.

    If I ever snap to that level, you can bet my medication status will be mentioned.
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    as could i about people who want to "cure" autism

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    Everytime I hear, "The Critics are raving", I think of Siskal and Ebert with rabbies.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    The state of medicine has improved some in the last 22 years, Don.

    If I ever snap to that level, you can bet my medication status will be mentioned.
    Well everyone who knows you will know it was a spelling or grammar mistake.
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigDon View Post
    Larry, I know what you mean. That one is a close second to my major pet peeve.

    No, the one that really, really cheeses me, is (Don't look Gillian) when some poor nutjob gets shot to death by police "and authorities say he wasn't taking his medication" I get sputtering mad. Since when are doctors, "princes, popes or potentates"?

    I have a brain injury that gives me seizures. If I was still taking all the stuff they wanted me too I'd be a drooling idiot consigned to a nursing home. It almost happened in '85. But I'd be seizure free! That's all that's important, right?

    I could so go on a multi-page rant here.
    Please don't.

    I'll just throw in that though the phrase you mentioned does sound like a glib attempt at blaming the victim in a badly mishandled situation.
    It is an unfortunate fact that there are people who are perfectly functional when on their medication and complete whackjobs when not and that police often are not educated or equipped to handle the latter situation.
    Most non-lethal options require the opponent to care enough about pain to react to the threat of more of it.

    People do die from not taking their medication, whether indirect from turning crazy and attacking police or jumping off a pier, or more directly by not taking medication for a physical disease.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    Please don't.
    Oh don't worry, I know you folks don't want to hear it! That's why I didn't.
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    Quote Originally Posted by kashi View Post
    Obviously it's just a figure of speech. I can't believe you would waste your time analysing Bush's speech for its use of grammar!
    I agree.
    And in this case, it is reinforced as a figure of speech with the sentence that immediately precedes it

    Although, thinking about it does raise the question on the saying itself. I would agree that a "bad place at a bad time" would solve the issue, and maybe that's how it got started.

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    I had the same immediate reaction as soon as I heard those words. Taking them literally (as with many statements by a lot of people) can cause that to happen.

    They were of course not in any kind of wrong place. It is just a way of saying they were not doing anything wrong, that they were quite innocently and passively going about their usual business when some really bad stuff happened in their proximity.

    Now I've gone and taken the comment about the statement literally. Anyone want to dissect my opinion about the comment about the statement in an overly literal fashion?

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    I understand your point--I had the same reaction to the phrase when I heard a replay of Bush's speech. I said, hey, they were in the right place--school.

    But I don't understand why you'd then approve of it's use in the toilet seat example. Walking down the street is the wrong place?


    A freak accident of nature is one thing, an act of criminal violence is another.

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    Wrong place = Any place somebody is about to go on a shooting rampage is the wrong place to be.

    Wrong time = Being there at the exact time said person starts shooting.

    I'm generally okay with figures of speech. Everyone knew what he meant and if (close to politics here, I suppose) Reagan, Clinton, Kennedy, or anyone else had said the same thing under the same circumstances - it would have gone unnoticed. Further - they would have been praised for the wonderful speech they gave and the caring that they showed in arriving on campus so quickly after such a tragedy. This is the case of his reputation preceding him. Just like Rasheed Wallace can't cross his eyes without getting T'ed up (for those NBA fans out there), but if the wrong ref T's up Tim Duncan for laughing on the bench - the ref gets tossed for the playoffs.

    Unrelated, but the phrase that drives me nuts is, "Hot Water Heater".

    No it's not. It's a cold water heater, or just a water heater. If the water is already hot, what do you need a heater for?
    Last edited by Click Ticker; 2007-Apr-18 at 01:59 PM. Reason: Small addition.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spock Jenkins View Post
    Unrelated, but the phrase that drives me nuts is, "Hot Water Heater".
    Hmmm...
    1) As apposed to warming cold water to keep it from freezing?
    2) Keep heating to keep the current hot water hot?

    But yes... redundancies can get a little irritating.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RalofTyr View Post
    Political Content removed by moderator. User RalofTyr is warned against such statements...

    Can someone please explain why the above comment did not result in at least a couple day banning? It violates at least two of the forum rules.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Larry Jacks View Post
    They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
    Not to take shots at the prez, this is just an example of the kind of thinking today.

    This kind of thinking and terminology is a result of the common way people process information, and a need to "make sense" out of an example of terror.

    Fact is, these people were not "in the wrong place" and time had nothing to do with it. What happened:

    A kook made up his mind to kill people - for whatever reason(s).
    The chosen victims had no way to defend themselves.

    The kook was in the wrong place, in fact. You see, he'd set a fire on campus recently and was arrested and 'evaluated' by a doctor, then released. He didn't belong on campus, all of his victims DID belong there, but HE WAS IN THE WRONG PLACE.

    Why was he in the "wrong place"? Because the system failed. We have damaged our 'system' to the point that an obvious threat cannot be dealt with. There were MANY signs that we were headed for trouble, but we must not "judge" or "label" anyone; and we all have "rights". He had a "right" to be on campus.

    I have a sense that the sickness that was obvious to those around him is just now coming out, and we will be sad when we really see how, perhaps, obvious it was that this event, or something like it, was going to happen.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spock Jenkins View Post
    I'm generally okay with figures of speech. Everyone knew what he meant and if (close to politics here, I suppose) Reagan, Clinton, Kennedy, or anyone else had said the same thing under the same circumstances - it would have gone unnoticed.

    If the water is already hot, what do you need a heater for?
    To keep it hot. Otherwise it would get cold.

    Seriously, that's a great point, and I will try to elaborate without breaking the rules. PBS has been airing a fantastic series this week, America at a Crossroads, or something like that. Monday was on our soldiers in the combat zone, yesterday was on Perlman and our MidEast policy. Great stuff, highly recommend it to everybody.

    I think this evening is going to on how our adminstration is handling things, and I believe the emphasis will be on how that is perceived. (I did not pay close enough attention to the trailer). I did catch though that it looked like they were going to compare how people scrutinize what Bush says so differently than most of his predecessors. Should be another great show. And anybody who did not see the 1st 2 installments - get copies and see 'em.

    BTW, all that being said, I do think the fun Letterman pokes at Bush is top notch humor, hilarious stuff - and NOT to be taken literally.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spock Jenkins View Post
    Wrong place = Any place somebody is about to go on a shooting rampage is the wrong place to be.

    Wrong time = Being there at the exact time said person starts shooting.

    I'm generally okay with figures of speech.
    i do not think it is even a figure of speech but a statement that is correct when we have ex post knowledge of the events of this day

    Everyone knew what he meant
    from this thread we may suspect that maybe some people have trouble understanding this

    when we say something is the right or the wrong place to be in addition to some value judgment of what is right and wrong we must also have in mind some information set ex ante in school is the right place to be in the value judgment of most people ex post it was not on this day at this time because someone began shooting and killing the students there so if bush says they were in the wrong place in the wrong time then what is the problem ex post they were does he have to specify the information set every time he says anything

    people talk like this all the time if someone invests in something and the investment performs poorly then everyone says this was a bad decision but ex ante when the decision to invest or not must be made we do not have foreknowledge of the outcome so maybe taking into consideration the probabilities of different outcomes it was a good decision conditional on the information available at the time but nonetheless everyone says it was a bad decision this is not a problem if we understand that their judgment of the badness of this decision is with ex post knowledge of the outcome and that ex ante when the decision had to be made maybe it is a good decision

    so i do not see what is the problem the statement of bush makes perfect sense when it is interpreted with ex post knowledge i cannot imagine that any serious person believes bush is blaming these students for making some mistake of judgment he even says this in the previous sentence and still people cannot understand his meaning

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    Quote Originally Posted by SockMonkey View Post
    So skidding on a patch of black ice or being startled by a rock getting kicked up into the windshield is the driver's fault?

    You can't predict and avoid every bad thing in the world. It's a simple fact of life.
    Okay, almost every "accident" is the result of at least one driver disobeying at least one traffic law.

    There's a blanket law that requires drivers to "maintain control of the vehicle" at all times. If a (small!) rock hits your windshield which results in an "accident," there is some question of whether you were really "in control" of your vehicle

    And the person turning left who "didn't see the motorcycle" is not willfully violating a traffic law (why M/C riders wear Harry Potter invisibility cloaks is beyond me), but the law has been violated, nonetheless.

    For those who find some objection to my observation, turn it around and put it to selfish use: if you never violate a traffic law, you will never be cited "at fault" in a traffic accident. You can still get into accidents, but you will never be the one responsible if you were obeying all the laws and your insurance rate will not go up

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Wilson View Post
    Take this one.

    The driver was "accidentally" going 91 mph?

    Without even looking at the link, I'm guessing that you are talking about my guv'nor.

    edited to add: I win!

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    Quote Originally Posted by ad hominem View Post
    i do not think it is even a figure of speech but a statement that is correct when we have ex post knowledge of the events of this day
    Yes; In hindsight, if they knew it would be happening, even if they were required to be there at that time, it would have been the wrong thing to do.
    Quote Originally Posted by ad hominem View Post
    people talk like this all the time if someone invests in something and the investment performs poorly then everyone says this was a bad decision
    But; look in the dictionary at the various definitions of "bad" vs "wrong". To boil it down (the way I interpreted it), bad is applied more to results, while wrong is applied more to acts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NEOWatcher View Post
    Yes; In hindsight, if they knew it would be happening, even if they were required to be there at that time, it would have been the wrong thing to do.

    But; look in the dictionary at the various definitions of "bad" vs "wrong". To boil it down (the way I interpreted it), bad is applied more to results, while wrong is applied more to acts.
    maybe there is some subtle distinction in meaning i do not understand this is certainly possible

    but even so i think the meaning of the speech is clear in one sentence he says the students did not do anything they should not have done because they have no foreknowledge of this event then in the next sentence he says with hindsight we know they should not have been there i do not see any contradiction between the two thoughts maybe he could change the wording slightly but i cannot see how anyone can interpret this as an attempt to blame the victims for their fate

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