Guidance On The Words ‘Ambush’ And ‘Assassinate’

When reporting about the shooting deaths of New York City police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, the word “ambush” does not apply according to the accounts we’ve seen so far. By definition, an ambush is an attack from a place of hiding. From what’s been reported, it appears the officers were shot and killed without warning. But it seems that the attacker did not fire from a place of hiding.

The words “assassin,” “assassination” and “assassinated” also do not quite fit. Drawing from dictionary definitions, The Associated Press advises that the term assassination is to be used “only if it involves the murder of a politically important or prominent individual by surprise attack.” An assassin, meanwhile, is “one who kills a politically important or prominent person.”

These were “killings.” The officers were “attacked.” They were “shot dead.” Words such as those describe what happened. We do not need to give this gunman the additional notoriety of being an “assassin.” He was a “killer.”

Newsmakers and guests will likely continue to use the words “ambush” and “assassinated,” of course.

(Memmos; Dec. 22, 2014)

December 22, 2014

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