On The Word ‘Suicide’

We are being careful about the word “suicide” when reporting about the actions of the Germanwings co-pilot. There are at least two reasons not to use it at this time:

– His motivation and state of mind aren’t known (and may never be).

– The investigation into what happened is still in the early stages.

There’s also a case to be made that the word isn’t adequate. As Lufthansa’s chief said, if the co-pilot’s actions were deliberate, “it is more than suicide.”

Regarding what to say instead, previous guidance about avoiding labels makes sense in this case as well.

On Morning Edition, Eleanor Beardsley simply used other action words:

– “Investigators are looking at … clues as to why [Andreas Lubitz] would take 149 people on board to their deaths with him.”

– Investigators told the co-pilot’s family “that their son had deliberately steered his passengers and crew to their deaths.”

In a Newscast, Dave Mattingly put it this way:

– “Investigators say [Andreas] Lubitz deliberately crashed a Germanwings Airbus into the French Alps. … They don’t know why.”

Related notes:

– “Suicide bomber” is a phrase that’s become common usage. But keep in mind that the person with the bomb may have been forced or tricked into carrying out the act. If that appears to have been the case, “suicide bomber” is not accurate. Again, the better course is to simply describe what happened.

– “Committed suicide” is a sensitive phrase that some believe stigmatizes people. They make the case that you “commit” a crime or may be “committed” to an institution, but you do not commit suicide. “Killed himself” and “took her life” are among the alternatives.

(Memmos; March 27, 2015)

March 27, 2015

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