“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
This quote from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass is–unfortunately for all pedantic autodidacts such as yours truly–how language works in the real world. In an ideal world, which I shall mandate as soon as I am appointed God-King-Emperor of the known universe, language would be a tool for communication: words would be used with their generally accepted definition in mind, in order to convey thoughts from one mind to another.
Case in point: coma. Wikipedia, that fount of all knowledge, ever so helpfully gives us a description: “a coma (from the Greek κῶμα koma, meaning “deep sleep”) is a state of unconsciousness (…) in which a person: cannot be awakened; fails to respond normally to painful stimuli, light, or sound; lacks a normal sleep-wake cycle; and, does not initiate voluntary actions.”
Let’s reflect on that last bit for a second. A person in a coma does not initiate voluntary actions. This means that a person who is comatose does not and can not “fight for his life.” If anyone is fighting for the patient’s life, it would be medical personnel – not the unfortunate patient who is literally unable to do anything, let alone fight.
Now, I understand this is a phrase that should not be taken literally. Even so, it needs to die. I implore you, tabloid journalists of the world: please stop using this cliché. That goes for everyone else as well. While we’re at it, let’s all stop saying stuff like “he’s gone to a better world” (Newspeak for dying) or worse, “Grandpa’s in Heaven now” (Kurt Vonnegut’s favourite joke notwithstanding). If our hearts are pure, we can stamp out these phrases in our lifetime.