stepgrandparents and relational ambiguity

Victor aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 23 02:39:31 UTC 2009

I am rather concerned about a dictionary being cited as proof of lack of
semantic ambiguity. It seems the definition in Black's is a bit of an
oversimplification in order to provide professionals with simple concise
quotations. If this were sufficient to understand the meaning of these
terms, textbooks on criminal law would be substantially shorter.

I would say exactly the opposite. "Murder" is *very* ambiguous in legal
context, leading some states to redefine crimes related to a loss of
life without using the word "murder" or, occasionally, without referring
to "manslaughter". Consider the states, for example, that have replaced
all legal code references to "murder" with "intentional homicide" of
various degrees, followed by a few more articles that refer to
"negligent homicide" of varying degrees.  This is followed by, for
example, "vehicular homicide", which, again, can vary by degrees,
"felony murder" which is define without actually using that phrase
(although it is a lot less ambiguous than "murder" by itself). There is
no reference to "justifiable killing" at all, but there are mitigations
and defenses one can apply in homicide cases. This "murder" avoidance
seems to suggest an existing ambiguity that needed to be rectified.

But all of this is not relevant to my original question. Referring to
someone as having been "killed" is ambiguous as to whether the "killing"
has been performed by another person or by an inanimate object (e.g., a
falling rock, or something that is not even an object in a physical
sense, such as a poison or a "heart attack") or by an act ("killed by a
fall from the roof"--although coroner's reports would usually avoid such
terminology). But is this a structural ambiguity or merely a question of

As a counterpoint, I would suggest "cheek" and "breast".


Dave Wilton wrote:
> "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
> statutes.
> "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.

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