Lynching redux

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Tue Aug 2 16:10:06 UTC 2005

At 12:11 AM -0400 7/28/05, Wilson Gray wrote:
>In an earlier  thread, there was some question as to whether vigilantes
>had to use  hanging as the means of execution in order for said
>execution to count as  a lynching.
>The NYT, in a recent article, referred to a vigilante  killing as a
>lynching, even though the four victims had been shot to  death. IIRC,
>the article described the occurrence as "the last mass  lynching."

I am going to take the law into my own hands.

I state:  EVERY SINGLE ADS-L MEMBER who has contributed to this and  related
threads has been WRONG.

First to dispose of an extended meaning of "lynching".  During the  Clarence
Thomas confirmation hearings, someone (I forget whether it was Thomas  or
Anita Hill, but both were justified in the usage) referred to the ongoing  circus
as "a legal lynching".  This extended sense does not concern us  here.

A lynching is
1) a premeditated killing
2) in which the killers (sometimes called "vigilantes") have no legal
standing to try or punish the victim
3) in which the killers justify their premeditated action by claiming the
victim's alleged action justified and/or required killing him/her
4) AND in which the narrator who uses the word "lynching" disapproves of  the

Note number 4).  "Lynch" is NOT a neutral term.  It is a value  judgment,
used only when the narrator disapproves of the killing.

I have not seen the NYT article cited above, but I would be willing to bet
money that the author disapproved of the "vigilante killing" and hence it was
not just proper but required that he refer to it as a "lynching".  I also  do
not doubt that Wilson Gray disapproved of the killing and hence he too was
proper and using correct English when he also used the term "lynching" (I might
add that I am rather sure I too would disapprove of the killing were I to
read  the article).

When you use the word "lynch" you do not imply a hanging; rather you state
that the killing in question was both vigilante-style and UNACCEPTABLE.

"Lynch" is therefore a "loaded" term, but since the activity being  described
is widely disapproved, I can hardly object to the use of such a loaded  term.

For comparison, consider the words "homicide" and "murder".  "Murder"  is a
value judgment term.  "Homicide" is a neutral term, used in law to  refer to a
killing before the court has decided who, what, why.  It is  understandable
for a court to return a verdict of "justifiable homicide".   The term
"justifiable murder" however would be a rather moronic oxymoron.

               - James A. Landau (prescriptivist and proscriptivist

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