The language curmudgeon . . .

U.S. Broadcasters Cite Too Many Suspects

Conrad Weisert
© Information Disciplines, Inc., Chicago—18 July 2016

NOTE: This document may be circulated or quoted from freely, as long as the copyright credit is included.
suspect n. One who is suspected, especially of committing a crime.
 —American Heritage Dictionary

suspect n. a person who is suspected of a wrongdoing.
 —Microsoft Encarta Dictionary.

Nearly seven years ago we noted the strange practice among American news reporters to use the noun "suspect" as a synonym for assailant, killer, robber, shooter, perpetrator, terrorist, etc., even when reporting as fact an individual's actual offense:

"The suspect opened fire into the crowd and wounded several spectators."

Since then, that misusage has continued to grow to the point where "suspect" has become the common way of attributing guilt or responsibility in news reports.

Last week's horrifying Bastille Day attack on innocent spectators in Nice, France, was reported on ABC, PBS, and other television networks in just that inexplicable way. Indeed, Americans have become so accustomed to hearing about atrocities perpetrated by "suspects" that both reporters and their audiences are coming to think of that as the normal interpretation. Before long, we may see the more permissive dicionaries (Random House?) legitimize that usage. Our English language will then have lost a perfectly good noun to designate one who is suspected of a crime.

Both the behind-the-scenes news writers and the on-air news readers need to end this strange and confusing practice. We could even support an edict from network management outlawing the noun "suspect" altogether, even in its proper context, if that's the only sure way to break reporters of the habit.


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Last modified 18 July 2016