Allegedly About the Words ‘Alleged’ and ‘Allegedly’

Let’s take a break from If a Butterfly stuff for a bit.

I have a few pet peeves regarding language. Misuse of the word “allegedly” is one of them. If you pay attention to news broadcasts, you have probably noticed the constant use of the words ‘alleged’ and allegedly’ in describing persons who have done something, most often associated with a crime. I’m not trying to bash the press here, and I understand the reason why they are doing it, but I believe they often misuse the words intentionally.

Here’s a definition.   al·lege  /əˈlej/

verb

  1. claim or assert that someone has done something illegal or wrong, typically without proof that this is the case.
    “he alleged that he had been assaulted”

Following are a few headlines and some commentary. I won’t reprint whole reports here, but the title of each news report will link to the full story on the web if you want to follow up on any of them. The news stories are all indented.

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Police shoot, kill alleged robber in Tukwila

from the News Tribune, Tacoma, Washington, December 8, 2013

A shootout with police after an alleged robbery Saturday night in Tukwila left one man dead.

The police get a report that someone is robbing a convenience store. They surround the store. A man flees the store with a gun. They shoot him. A robbery has clearly taken place. Why does the newspaper feel compelled to call it an alleged robbery. I understand calling the suspect an “alleged robber” for legal reasons, but there was a robbery.

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This one can’t make up its mind.

Alleged drunk driver crashes with deputy on DUII patrol

from KGW.com, NewsChannel 8, Portland, Oregon, December 8, 2013

A Washington County Deputy on patrol for DUII  enforcement was hit by a drunk driver early Sunday morning in Aloha, authorities said.

A man left a bar after midnight, pulling onto a highway and into the path of an oncoming sheriff’s deputy. The deputy couldn’t stop and they crashed. The man was booked on DUII (driving under the influence of intoxicants) charges. Was the man drunk? Possibly, probably, but why use the phrase “alleged drunk driver” in the headline, then “a drunk driver” in the story itself?

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This one can’t make up its mind either.

List of alleged victims of the News International phone hacking scandal

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (as of 2013-12-09).

The following people have been identified as victims of the News International phone hacking scandal.

And the article goes on to name a number of people who were hacked. If you identify them as alleged victims in your headline, but then say they have been identified as victims, how are they still alleged victims?

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Two Men Injured in Two Separate Alleged Stabbings

 WDTV, Bridgeport, West Virginia, December 08, 2013

Two separate stabbing incidents in Morgantown on Sunday morning injured two men, and police need your help with any information you might have about the incidents.

In the town of Morgantown, WV, on Sunday December 8th, there were two stabbings. One was at 1:30 am at a saloon on Earl Core Road, and the other was at 4:00 am on 5th Street. Two different men were stabbed, one on 5th Street, and another at the saloon. Both men were taken to the hospital where they were treated for stab wounds. Stabbings definitely occurred. How on earth are they alleged stabbings?

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This was my favorite, though.

Qld police throw away diamond ring evidence swallowed by alleged thief

By Eric Tlozek, ABC Australia, Fri 6 Dec 2013

Queensland police say they have lost a valuable diamond ring swallowed by an alleged thief, because they failed to check his stools. The 50-year-old man allegedly stole two diamond rings from an Indooroopilly jeweller last week and swallowed them. He has been in police custody ever since, as officers waited for the rings to go through his system. They now say one of the rings was inadvertently thrown out in a medical waste bag after the man passed it last weekend. An X-ray has confirmed the other ring is still inside the man.

They have the man in the store on security cameras asking to look at two diamond rings. Once he has them in his hands, he runs from the store. Outside he is stopped and held until the police get there. The diamonds have disappeared, but he confesses to having swallowed them. They X-ray him and wait for the diamonds to emerge from his body. He stole the rings on camera. He admitted he stole the rings. Any day now they will have one of the rings to use as evidence. Why is he an alleged thief?

My favorite line in the first article about the incident was after they had been waiting for the rings for a few days, the police were asked for a comment, and the TV station reported, “Late this afternoon police said there had been no movement in the case…”

Do you have any particular pet peeves regarding language?

Michael

About michaelsirois

Just a retired educator taking a stab at the Great American Novel.
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