March 08, 2006

No Axe Attack

Here in Canada an item that has been much in the news is an ambush Saturday in Afghanistan in which a Canadian solider, Lieutenant Trevor Greene, was badly wounded by a blow to the head. Every news account that I have found, including this one from the Vancouver Sun, this one from CTV news, and this one from the Toronto Globe and Mail, describes the incident as an "axe attack". Some articles, such as this one in the Toronto Star, are accompanied by this photograph of the weapon:

Do you see the problem? The tool shown is not an axe. It seems clear to me that the head is at right angles to the shaft, not in line with it. That makes it an adze. The contrast is evident below. The one on the left is an adze, the one on the right is an axe.


Either my eyes deceive me or not a single one of the many journalists and editors who have worked on this story knows the difference between an axe and an adze. Personally, I find this much more worrisome than the alleged, or even real, grammatical errors the language pundits worry about. Whether or not you split your infinitives makes no difference, but if people don't know an axe from an adze, civilization really is coming to an end.

[Addendum: A reader writes to say that she agrees that the implement is not an axe but thinks that it is a mattock, not an adze. Below is a nice photo that I (well, actually, Google) found of a man wielding a pick-mattock. The pick is to the rear - the mattock blade is to the fore. I considered whether it might be a mattock, but rejected that hypothesis on the grounds that it looks too short. In my experience, mattocks are longer, like pickaxes. But maybe its a short mattock. Or maybe it is longer than it looks. The photo doesn't show the whole thing so its hard to tell. I don't know how Afghans use their tools. Anyhow, we're agreed that it isn't an axe.]

a man swinging a pick-mattock

Posted by Bill Poser at March 8, 2006 07:27 PM