Saturday, August 12, 2006

"I'm not dying," said Yossarian

Just when you thought you could turn your back on the Stupid Question, it surfaces again:

Guilty of murder, but will he die?
GEORGETOWN, S.C. -- A Georgetown County jury found Stephen Stanko guilty Friday night of killing his live-in girlfriend and raping a teenager in her home.

Stand by for a news flash. Yes, he's going to die. We're all going to die! It's sort of what happens at the end of life. If the Stupid Question you're trying to raise is "Will the jury vote for a death sentence?" (which is still rather far removed from "Will he be executed?"), you picked a particularly silly way to raise it.


Anonymous Strayhorn said...

At a conference, yea these many moons ago, I mentioned in passing how much it annoyed me to see the phrase "died unexpectedly" in obits. I said any good editor would strike it in favor of "died suddenly" since we all expect to die.

Much to my amazement, a fellow member of the panel argued with me for some time over this, saying that most people don't truly expect to die, that this was a central problem with the modern psyche, that noted psychiatrist (mumble) has written extensively on this, etc etc.

At the time I thought the man was just a fool. Now I realize that he's probably an editor in chief of some major news organization, and is probably responsible for more ills in the biz than Photoshop.

7:56 PM, August 12, 2006  
Blogger Peter Fisk said...


Believe it or not, I’ve worked with countless Thistlebottoms who would robotically delete your “suddenly” from “died suddenly” and then loudly proclaim: “Everyone dies suddenly. It’s like this: You’re alive, you’re alive, you’re dead!”

As you can imagine, there’s a significant overlap between this group of copy editors and those who change “calling hours will be held …” to “a calling hour will be …” if the calling hours are scheduled for precisely 60 minutes. (Yes, they robotically drop the “held,” too, and often the ensuing preposition to boot, but that’s a whole nother discussion.)

However, in a way it’s hard to fault copy editors when they do these things. They’re mostly doing what they’ve been told to do.

4:09 AM, August 13, 2006  
Blogger Peter Fisk said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

4:33 PM, August 13, 2006  
Blogger Peter Fisk said...


I think I might have found Strayhorn's long-lost conference buddy! Apparently he's some sort of professor now. Who'd a thunk?

Check out the fifth slide in his PowerPoint presentation:

4:47 PM, August 13, 2006  
Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Of course, the best solution probably is simply to say the person "died" and walk away.

I see nothing wrong with "died unexpectedly" -- in the context that most people probably do not expect to die at any given moment unless they have been lingering.

In a metaphysical sort of way "died suddenly" is probably better - indeed one moment you are here and the next you are gone (depending on your religious bent, perhaps). But I would argue that, as Garner puts it, these are "skunked" phrasings about which no one is likely to agree.

A simple "died" will do. Neither unexpectedly nor suddenly adds anything to the mix if you don't have details.

Of course, if we can write the person died because he or she became a hood ornament, then we darn well know the person likely didn't expect it.

4:46 AM, August 23, 2006  
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