Lynching redux

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Tue Aug 2 16:40:18 UTC 2005

On Aug 2, 2005, at 12:10 PM, James A. Landau wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "James A. Landau" <JJJRLandau at AOL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Lynching redux
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> 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
> killing.
> 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
> vigilante)

Thank you, Jim, for setting me straight. For us prescriptivists, there
is certainly nothing worse than the misuse of a technical term, unless
it be a misuse of syntax. I was clearly asleep at the wheel or,
perhaps, my mind was totally awash in idle thought when I posted that.

However, I do wish that you had made your point without reference to
the Yard Jockey of the Republican Right. Now my stomach's going to be
bothering me all day.

-Wilson Gray (yet again hoist upon his own petard, to coin a phrase)

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