Thursday, August 21, 2003

The Usual 'Suspects'

"The suspect was described as . . ."

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: No. There is no suspect; that's why police are giving out a description!

When a local television newscast or a poorly edited newspaper contains such a sentence, the person being described is almost always the robber or the killer or the rapist -- the perpetrator.

Exceptions: Suspect is appropriate if an unidentified person being sought was seen leaving the scene of a crime but not actually committing the crime. It's appropriate if there is actually a suspect, a named person, and he's being described because he's on the run and not being labeled a perpetrator because of libel laws (but such a description would probably include the suspect's name).

Usually, however, it's an example of journalists mindlessly parroting cop-speak. Suspect means "person suspected of committing a crime" in English, even if it means "criminal" to the police (if you're into that whole innocent-until-proven-guilty thing, it's best not to think too much about that).

I wonder: Do the dictationist-reporters also call their dogs "K-9 units"?