Miners Charged with Murdering Themselves

11 09 2012

A headline from Time magazine’s website, dated Aug 30:

People can’t murder themselves, of course; constraints on reflexives require that themselves refer to the same miners mentioned earlier in the clause, not just other members of the same group of miners.  Of course, the use of murder instead of kill makes the intended meaning obvious; murder is a legal term specifying the killing of another; cf. the similar contrast of assault, which can’t be perpetrated on oneself, vs. attack, hurt, injure, sacrifice, etc., which can.  Had the writer used kill, readers would assume, incorrectly, that they were reading about a mass suicide.

As for alternate phrasing, murdering each other wouldn’t work, since it requires that each murder victim also be a murderer, something only possible in the world of Quentin Tarantino.  Strangely, the subhead suggests a simple solution: substitute colleagues for themselves.

The New York Times (from Aug 31) took a better approach, with (IMHO) the repetition of miners after police shooting of miners highlighting the tragic absurdity of the situation:

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