Sunday, May 03, 2009

Adverbs gone wild II: Executing the survivors

Here's one of those interchangeable-time things I was hoping for an example of:

Man dies after being struck by car
An 18-year-old-man* was killed in southwest Detroit on Saturday night after he was deliberately struck by a car on Michigan Avenue following an argument.

Glitch much? It makes perfect sense to say he died after being hit by the car, but dying after an accident and being killed after an accident aren't quite the same thing. Hence the classic rescue-'em-and-shoot-'em hed from a few years back:

23 killed after turboprop crashes near Caspian Sea

The operating principle seems to be that time adverbs have a conjunctive sense -- A has something to do with B -- that overrides their time sense, partly driven by the widespread journalistic fear of saying something the same way twice. Here are a few more examples from recent days, both with an after/when swap from hed to lede:

Police: Woman killed after her car hits another, then overturns
Police said a North Carolina woman was killed Monday morning when her car sideswiped a vehicle, then hit another car, causing a chain reaction before overturning on First Colonial Road. (Virginian-Pilot, 4/28)

Uniontown man killed after motorcycle crash in Saltlick
A 74-year-old Uniontown man was killed Saturday afternoon when his motorcycle collided with a pick-up in Saltlick, state police at Uniontown reported. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 4/27)

Why not use "dies" for "(is) killed" in the heds? We don't even have the Elongated Yellow Fruit Syndrome to blame.

I don't think this particular bit of confusion is a long-term threat to democracy or free speech, and it probably isn't even too confusing for too awfully long. Still, it's a really strange habit to be so persistent in a trade that prides itself on its Guardianship of The Language. Makes you wonder whether we're wasting our effort holding the which/that line, doesn't it?

* Don't mind the hypenation; it's more or less random at the Freep these days.


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Why not "killed when"?

8:40 AM, May 04, 2009  
Anonymous Ed said...

You're right about the temporal liberties that are being taken with "after", but even in these lax days, I can't easily think of an example when "when" doesn't mean "when". (I may have missed a post on Language Log about this, I suspect.)

But it behooves us to be sticklers about adverbs, prepositions and the like - just in case, heaven forbid, the originating desk hasn't got a totally secure grip on the timeline. Danger lurks. It's important enough to be prescriptivist about in news writing, I think.

11:57 AM, May 04, 2009  
Anonymous raYb said...

It's the killed that's the problem. Killed carries intent. People die in car crashes, but they're killed with guns and such.

11:55 PM, May 06, 2009  
Blogger Pam said...

Hiya, Fev, exactly right. I've seen this weird "killed after an accident" a couple of times lately. It's as if people are confusing "died" and "killed"

7:41 AM, May 09, 2009  
Blogger John Cowan said...

Hey, if people can confuse refute and deny (so what's the new term for refute, anyhow?), then why not kill and die too?

Also, if you are whacked on the head on Tuesday and die in the hospital the following Monday, just when were you killed?

11:22 AM, June 01, 2009  
Blogger fev said...

The AP has a rule for that! It's the day you were attacked. (Assuming, I guess, that it was an assassination, not just garden-variety head-whacking.)

3:29 PM, June 02, 2009  
Blogger John Cowan said...

Wow, really? Missed that one.

With how long people can stay on life support these days, that could make for some impressive General-Grant-Still-Dead-type stories: "Drug Lord Dies After 1996 Killing"

Traditionally, death had to follow killing within a year and a day to prove murder or manslaughter. This may have been changed by statute in various jurisdictions.

6:46 PM, June 08, 2009  

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