In this post I am going to discuss a pet peeve about the use of language–the use of a particular word. I am an avid tennis player (even if not particularly good). I get the magazine Tennis, and there was an article asking some tennis stars who their heroes were. The large majority of them named tennis or other sport stars from the past. I have found this use of the term hero to be quite common.
What is a hero? We can go to the dictionary, but that is problematic in that a) the dictionary offers several definitions, and b) dictionaries are not the arbitrators of definitions but the recorders of them—dictionaries decide definitions by their usage. My experience has been that the word hero is often used the way I described above.
However, for me, that use of hero is simply a synonym for idol. What I would like to reserve the term hero for when it includes two other criteria besides (and some dictionary definitions do include these, especially if you look up heroism, or heroic, rather than just hero). These are that it is done in the service of others, and that some risk is taken.
While I admire Roger Federer as a tennis player, and he may even be an idol or someone I want to be like as a tennis player, he does not fit my definition of a hero. His becoming one of the best tennis players ever took and takes an enormous amount of dedication and talent. But he did not take any what I would call significant risks—his life or future was not put in danger by his working to be a great tennis player. He did it for himself—no one is saved by his great tennis playing.
I see this phenomena of people naming idols—often media and sports stars—as common, true from kids to adults. I wonder if this is just a different idea of what hero means, or part of out focus on media and sports stars in our culture.
One common answer kids, and others often give, though, does fit my definition. Parents! Parents do fit the hero definition of mine! Having a child is a big risk—no one really comes prepared for what it means to be a parent. It is a big sacrifice! The work of a parent is to put one’s child before oneself.
Do you have a pet peeve about a word you feel is misused? What is it and why?