stepgrandparents and relational ambiguity

Dave Wilton dave at WILTON.NET
Fri Jan 23 00:40:05 UTC 2009

"Murder" is not at all ambiguous in a legal context; murder is "the killing
of a human being with malice aforethought" (Black's Law Dict., 8th ed.).
Murder is illegal in all cases. There are gradations of murder, but these
aren't "ambiguous;" the gradations are clearly delineated in criminal

"Manslaughter" is the legal term for killing without malice aforethought.
Again, manslaughter is always a crime.

"Homicide" is the general legal term, "the killing of one person by another"
(Ibid.) and encompasses murder, manslaughter, and justifiable killings. The
death certificates of executed felons give "homicide" as the cause of death.
Again, I wouldn't use "ambiguous" in the case of homicide--it's pretty clear
and not vague at all, just general.

Generality or non-specificity is not the same thing as ambiguity.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of
Joel S. Berson
Sent: Thursday, January 22, 2009 1:53 PM
Subject: Re: stepgrandparents and relational ambiguity

At 1/22/2009 02:30 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>The fact that we have a word "murder" that entails
>'kill deliberately' (among other things) doesn't make "kill"
>ambiguous between intentional and unintentional readings.

I would say in legal contexts both "kill" and "murder" can be
ambiguous.  We do not punish all such acts equally, but take into
account intention, ability to understand or to control ones actions,
and other circumstances.

Does this make all ambiguity contextual?  That is, a word is
ambiguous if within its utterance the hearer needs more information.


The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list