[Cache – #38]
Why do we overwhelmingly refer to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 as “9/11” (nine-eleven)? First and foremost, because they were so incredibly surprising, confusing and vast that they defied easy description. Faced with multiple attacks in multiple locations, delivered on a scale and in a manner completely unanticipated by the public, we could only manage to describe them according to the single fact we could get our heads around: the day they occurred.
We do not refer to other catastrophically-felt public tragedies, such as the JFK assassination or Pearl Harbor, as 11/22 or 12/7. As difficult as those events were to understand, their time-honoured methods of delivery were ultimately not outside our perception of what was possible.
And what do naming fundamentals have to say about the power of the “9/11” label?
Powerful names are visual
The world’s most powerful brands create an indelible impression in the mind. Perhaps the most powerful of these impressions are visual. Few of us can think of Subway without thinking of Jared, Maytag without the Maytag Man or McDonald’s without the Golden Arches.
On September 12th and the days following, images in media around the world rendered the Twin Towers as the numeral 11. That the Twin Towers happened to look like the number 11 was an association that seemingly went unnoticed until the coincidence of the tragedy happening on the 11th day of the month.
The legacy of this coincidence has been assured by our emotional reaction to it, because…
Powerful names are emotional
Our collective sense of alarm on that date coincided with “911,” the number instantly associated in North America with dire emergency.
Powerful names are short
At first, my personal preference was to refer to the events as “September 11th,” not “9/11.” I felt that using an abbreviation somehow diminished the gravity of what happened that day. Yet I have to admit that as time has passed, I increasingly use the 9/11 moniker. I have noticed that use of September 11th has also decreased among the public generally. Why has this happened? Partly because 9/11 is four syllables and September 11th is six. We prefer short names because they are easier to say.
How do you refer to the events of September 11, 2001? September 11th, 9/11, or even something else?