Saturday, April 20, 2024

Still Life with Robin: The Problem with Porch Pirates

 by Peggy Robin

I hate porch pirates. Not just what they do, I hate what they are called. The "porch" part -- that's OK, although it implies you need to have a front porch to be a victim. "Porch" pirates are stealing from stoops, doorsteps, walkways, mail rooms, and any other conceivable place a package could be left. It's the "pirate" part that I find objectionable; however, it does seem to have caught on and is undoubtably the most widely-used term.

The Washington Post print edition just recently used that phrase in the headline of a front page story on the problem: "D.C. targets ‘porch pirates’ with sting operations and tougher penalties" (Thursday, April 19 print edition, online April 13). 
So what's wrong with calling them pirates? It's a fine old word for roving thieves, and there's a fun bit of alliteration in the P - P sound. Yes....too much fun, and that's my problem with it. Say "pirate" these days and the first thing that comes to mind might be Disney/Depp's dashing Captain Jack Sparrow or maybe Long John Silver or any of a plethora of comical villains from kiddie lit and legend. Who's afraid of Captain Hook? 

And that trivializes what is going on here. You see, it's not just luxury gadgets and overpriced non-essentials that get robbed from the rich (who can always get a prompt replacement). It's packages of vital medications. It's the one-of-a-kind heirloom quilt that your grandmother made for you, and you are shipping to your daughter to use in her new home. It's the replacement smoke detector that you'd better install before you go on vacation for two weeks. It's the specially-formulated pet food that your vet said is the only thing your poor, sick dog can digest.

It's also your sense of safety and your belief in the goodness of your fellow human beings that takes a hit, when people can just brazenly walk up to your front door and walk away with your stuff. And they keep doing it, again and again. And it's how you feel when you report the crime, and the police shrug and say, "Next time, just have your package delivered to a secure box inside the police station."

Is that how we want to live? Or, to put it more cynically, is that the best we can do?

Like the police, I have no power to make this go away. My beat isn't crime-stopping, anyway. As an editor, my expertise is with words and how we use them. So I'll limit my comments to objecting to the term "porch pirate." Here's what I prefer: the plain, descriptive, non-alliterative "package thief."

Can we make it go viral?

Oh, I wish...but I don't think so. (Remember, you can't "make 'fetch' happen.")

How does that make me feel? I will tell you in one word: AAARRRRRGH!

p.s. If you've never seen Mark Rober's "Glitter Bomb 1.0 vs Porch Pirates" video, spend 8 minutes watching. It won't help you solve the problem, but it's still very satisfying:

Still Life with Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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