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Wednesday, March 5, 2014
“Alleged”
“Alleged” has become perhaps the most overworked word in the American lexicon. No longer used just to protect the rights of an accused when referring to a crime, it has become so ubiquitous that it is often used even when commenting about someone who has actually been convicted of a serious crime, such as rape or murder.
 
The media now use the word routinely in reporting the news, often when it really should not apply.
 
For example, the attempted terrorist bombing of the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 and the statements by the Obama administration, including the president himself, highlight the degree to which Political Correctness (PC) has overrun our culture: “A person was detained by customs at Detroit Metro Airport on Friday following Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's alleged [emphasis added] attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, according to a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.” 
 
It was an “alleged attack” notwithstanding the fact that the man seriously burned himself in the act and was clearly attempting to blow up the airplane as it was landing.
 
The definition of alleged is: “Represented as existing or as being as described but not so proved; supposed.”
 
For example, an “alleged” burglar is someone who has been accused of being a burglar but against whom no charges have been proved. An “alleged” incident is an event that is said to have taken place but has not yet been verified.
 
In their zeal to protect the rights of the accused, newspapers and law enforcement officials sometimes misuse “alleged”. Someone arrested for murder may be only an “alleged” murderer, for example, but is a real, not an “alleged”, suspect in that his or her status as a suspect is not in doubt. Similarly, if the money from a safe is known to have been stolen and not merely mislaid, then we may safely speak of a theft without having to qualify the description as “alleged”.
 
In recent years it has become common for speakers to include “allegedly” in statements that are controversial or possibly even defamatory. The implication is that, by saying allegedly, the speaker is distancing himself or herself from the controversy and even providing protection against possible prosecution. However, the effect created may be deliberate. The use of “allegedly”
can be a signal that, although the statement may seem outrageous, it is in fact true. 
 
For example, he was “allegedly” drunk at work. Conversely, it is also possible to use “allegedly” as an expression of ironic skepticism: He's “allegedly” a hard worker.
 
Writing in the Kansas City Star, Derek Donovan, said “I am often puzzled by the Star’s use of the words ‘alleged’ and ‘suspected’ in connection with crimes that have been committed. My OED defines ‘allege’ as ‘claim that someone has done something wrong, typically without proof.’ In many cases, the perpetrator is caught in the act of committing the crime. There is no doubt that this person committed the crime. When then does The Star refer to this person as the alleged or suspected perpetrator?...I agree that these references sometimes seem a bit ludicrous, as in a case earlier this year where a man was apprehended while holding a purse he had apparently just stolen a block away. He was called the ‘suspect’…
 
Steve Buttry commented in ‘The Buttry Dairy (October 26, 2012),’: “When it comes to language choices, I try to decide matters based on accuracy. This is why I want to call on all journalists and news organizations to stop using the term “alleged victim,” especially in stories about sexual abuse (almost the only type of stories where it appears)...It’s a blame-the-victim term we should banish forever from the journalism lexicon. You want to know why? Here’s the second definition of ‘alleged’ at Dictionary.com: doubtful; suspect; supposed.”
 
“And here’s a fact about victims of sexual abuse: Their stories are almost always credible. So, in most cases, alleged victim is not only insensitive, but inaccurate.”
 
“(The first definition for alleged, “declared or stated to be as described; asserted,” is accurate, but if people could read a second definition as the meaning,
we should look for a more accurate word.)”
 
© 2014 Harris R. Sherline, All Rights Reserved
 
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