Lynching redux

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Tue Aug 2 19:39:44 UTC 2005

You're wrong on at least one point, Jim.  Lynchers think lynching is fine and don't care who knows it.  That's why crowds of them can mob the courthouse in the little Western town yelling "Lynch him ! "


"James A. Landau" <JJJRLandau at AOL.COM> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: "James A. Landau"
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

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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