Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Reuters Refusing to Use Stupid Euphemisms

(Reuters) - The body of a man who apparently committed suicide last week was found inside a car buried in snow on Tuesday, police said. [Emphasis mine.]

It's not a particularly noteworthy suicide story, but I'm pleased that writer Aman Ali uses the natural phrase "committed suicide" instead of the unnatural euphemism "died by suicide," preferred by self-appointed media censors. Ali also uses the construction "shot himself with a shotgun," which is about as non-euphemistic as you can get without describing the entry wound.

13 comments:

  1. I appreciate your point, but it brings to the fore my gripe with the use of "commit" in talking about suicide actuation. To me, "commit" connotes that a criminal, or at least unacceptable, act has transpired. I don't like ascribing a negative value judgment to the act, so I try to veer away from "commit" when I articulate the concept.

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  2. I agree - I wonder if "to kill oneself" is the most neutral way to say it.

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  3. How's about "chose to end her/his life"?

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  4. I like to think of it as exercising the ultimate veto!

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  5. Would that make tubal ligation/vasectomy the penultimate veto?

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  6. That sounds right.

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  7. I vote for "suicide" as a verb!

    ~~The body of a man who apparently SUICIDED last week was found inside a car buried in snow on Tuesday, police said.~~

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  8. And "suicider" would be a clearer noun for the person who commits suicide, rather than "suicide." It lacks poetry, though.

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  9. Much as with masturbation, once can be a suicider and an suicidee all at the same time!

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  10. "To suicide" as a verb sounds way clunkier than "die by suicide" to me, but there's at least some precedent for the former. "To take [one's] own life" seems like a good compromise between euphemism and clarity, even though the word "take" still carries some of the negative moralistic coloring that "commit" does.

    Thomas Szasz points out that German, among other languages, distinguishes between "Selbstmord" (self-murder) and "Suizid." He takes it as an indication that the English terminology is insufficiently nuanced to properly deal with the subject.

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  11. Well, it's not like there's a real distinction, it's just that there is a stylistic difference: "Suizid" is more formal and scientific. That doesn't automatically make it the preferred choice: "Suizid" sounds colder and more emotionally distanced. (Also, both take the same two verbs, "verĂ¼ben" und "begehen", which are otherwise associated with crimes. There's also a slight stylistic difference in that the former verb sounds more official/legal.)

    I don't see English as lacking because it doesn't mirror this difference, though.

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  12. The most positive construction is "made a succesful suicide attempt", ha!

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  13. Also in german there is the noun "Freitod", which literally would be "Freedeath". It has a strong pro-choice connotation and is mostly used when the suicide is deemed acceptable, for example when the person was put into an unbearable situation by others.

    As to "Selbstmord" I'd like to add that it is, for most people, the default-word, but it still contains "murder" which is always morally wrong. "Suizid" is more neutral.

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