Beware this word "unprecedented"

Today, we learn that Human Rights Watch has urged Nato to investigate civilian deaths in air strikes in Libya last year. Nato’s response? The campaign was, it says, conducted with "unprecedented care and precision".

Unprecedented? Unprecedented?

Now, I know many people think “unprecedented” is just a fancy word for “a lot of”. But it really doesn’t mean that. What it means is “never done or known before”.

Is that really the message the Nato spokesperson wanted to send, do you think? That until that time they killed 72 civilians in Libya, they’d actually taken a rather cavalier approach to bombing the innocent?

That this was the first time in the history of the organisation they’d put any thought whatsoever into where their bombs might fall?

I doubt it.

Corporate writers are as guilty of using “unprecedented” to mean “lots of”. And for those of us who appreciate the niceties of language it invariably sounds wrong and ridiculous.

So don’t do it. Please.