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Greg Easterbrook complains:

Equally vexing is constant media and cultural use of the word "shooter" for someone who commits murder using a firearm. Press reports regularly refer to the person holding the gun during a murder as "the shooter," which almost sounds like some kind of skilled trade. The person holding the gun during a murder is "the murderer." This came to a head in Arizona this summer when a pair of fiends prowling Phoenix was dubbed the Serial Shooter, and so referred to even by Phoenix police. A murderer isn't a "shooter," he's a murderer.
I think there's a bit of an error here. Press reports talk about "shooters" because after a shooting cops talk about shooters. In part, that's because any time there's a shooting the cops are going to want to find the shooter, whether or not the shooting was a murder. In part, it's because it's not always clear in the immediate aftermath of a shooting whether or not it was a murder (it could be unclear exactly what happened, or the victim might be in critical condition) but you're going to want to find the shooter anyway. In part, it's because you can have a situation where more than one person participated in a murder (by, say, conducting an armed robbery) and are all legally guilty of murder, but only one person ("the shooter") actually shot and killed anyone.

August 10, 2006 | Permalink


The complaint seems to be directed at a cloying cliché. To me the usage seems trivial and, worse, carries an echo of sports reporting.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Aug 10, 2006 12:09:13 PM

Further, might the paper expose itself to libel if it calls someone a "murderer" without evidence? Isn't that why reporters are very careful to use "alleged", "charged", "indicted", "convicted", etc.?

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Aug 10, 2006 12:10:17 PM

Wow, you know it's August in DC when that's all Gregg Easterbrook has to write about....

Posted by: flippantangel | Aug 10, 2006 12:15:43 PM

Why shouldn't "shooter" sound like a skilled trade. It IS a skilled trade. Anyone who has ever tried to fire a gun at a target more than 20 feet away knows it's not as easy as it looks on TV.

More to the point, what is it with conservatives and language? Am I wrong or are they getting ever more hysterical about people using words in ways they don't like? I mean in the last few years we've had freedom fries, homicide bombers, privatizing soc sec going to whatever it is these days (personalizing? soc sec) and now this. I mean, this claim that a "murderer" cannot also be a "shooter", as though every entity in the world has one and only one correct canonical name; it's the sort of claim that if a twelve year old made it you'd think the kid was mentally deficient. Can a person not simultaneously be a man, a father and a doctor?

Posted by: Maynard Handley | Aug 10, 2006 12:23:00 PM

Gawd, he's irritating. Is anyone who reads the term "shooter" confused? Does anyone read about a drive-by shooting (sorry, "murdering," or "attempted murdering," or "negligent homiciding") think to themselves, "Wow, normally I would think those guys are criminals, but now I feel a certain affection and respect for them"? So, what really is the problem he's trying to address?

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Aug 10, 2006 12:31:31 PM

Easterbrook has an article in Atlantic about how come nobody is talking about solving global warming by devising new technologies that we can sell on the marketplace so that - everybody gets a share? I said its because you (meaning Easterbrook) and your right wing buddies have been denying global warming so much its hard to get a word in edgewise. But he couldn't hear me through the magazine.

Posted by: LowLife | Aug 10, 2006 12:35:06 PM

Easterbrook's complaint is absurd. Everyone always excuses his gaffes by saying he writes super-fast. But how is that an excuse for stupid writing?

The beef about "spree" I sort of understand; but no one is confused about the meaning when newscasters use it. "Oh, a spree! How delightful!"

But "the shooter"? At worst, it's a bit of police jargon, belonging in the same category as "the perp," or "reach out."

I've heards this usage dozens of times and not once did it occur to me anyone was diminishing what the shooter did.

On the other hand, I've heard Gregg Easterbrook really get going about those greedy Jews in Hollywood ...

Posted by: Cthomas | Aug 10, 2006 2:01:24 PM

On any subject aside from football (and the related "cheer-babes" his word, not mine), the tastefully named Easterbrook raises obtuseness to heights no one could have foreseen.

Posted by: Pooh | Aug 10, 2006 2:47:31 PM

Even on football Gregg "why are you blitzing" Easterbrook ran out of ideas about 3 years ago. His latest ESPN column is paragraph after paragraph about an irrelevant movie no one much liked - MI:3. He's losing it.

Posted by: Vanya | Aug 10, 2006 3:46:21 PM

One man's shooter is another man's Mumia.

Posted by: Al | Aug 10, 2006 5:10:47 PM

Let's not even get into the possibilities raised by "a gay, carefree outing."

Posted by: CJColucci | Aug 10, 2006 5:29:03 PM

I'm surprised no one here has picked up on the larger trend.

There's an odd political-lingustic effort afoot to emphasize the murder aspects of all pre-meditated killings.

Some of the manifestation of the effort:

- Thinking suicide bombers should be called "homicide bombers".

- Easterbrook's pretty odd objection discussed above.

- The decision by the British to emphasize the rhetoric of "mass murder" today.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 10, 2006 7:42:34 PM

Well, he's just wrong. A person can be shooter and a murderer. They are not mutually exclusive.

Sometimes you need a little variation.

Posted by: blah | Aug 10, 2006 11:11:38 PM

I just can't help think of Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore. Why are we tarnishing his good name?

Posted by: Greg | Aug 11, 2006 3:48:04 PM


I now look forward to, and will take quite seriously, any analysis by you of "political-lingustic efforts," ever since I recently saw you label something as an "adolescent screed" ever soooo correctly! I have long been searching for a description to express my impressions, and that one fits perfectly. :-)

Posted by: artappraiser | Aug 12, 2006 12:29:03 AM

"ever since I recently saw you label something as an "adolescent screed" ever soooo correctly!"

Sterling Newberry's inimitable combination of grandiloquence and incoherence is pretty damn surreal.

Posted by: Petey | Aug 13, 2006 2:40:47 PM

"Sterling Newberry's inimitable combination of grandiloquence and incoherence is pretty damn surreal."

Speaking of grandiloquence combined with incoherence, perhaps Sterling Newberry and Marty Peretz are actually the same person...

Posted by: Petey | Aug 15, 2006 6:50:03 AM

perhaps Sterling Newberry and Marty Peretz are actually the same person...

oh? I haven't read much Peretz. does he have the same kind of Asperger type thing going on in interaction with humanoids that attempt to read and comprehend his holy writ explanations of truths of the universe?

After following this fellow for a couple of years, I truly don't see any grandiloquence at all any more, I have concluded that's all a sham, that there is no there there. I see struggles with trying to translate the adolescent "grand answers to all things" in his very active brain into word language in order to communicate them to others. Trouble is, he cannot do word language very well (hint: is also a music composer), and will not admit that he cannot do it well, not even to self. When readers say they don't get the message, they are worthy only of scorn. If they say they do get the message and disagree, they are worthy of ridicule or banishment from the networld of the future. Only praise is welcome from the plebian hordes, proper treatment for grandiose 'precious genius.' No humanoid has enough intelligence to criticize. This is all quite odd behavior for someone who purports to want to be paid for audience (not to mention someone who purports to be a lefty and not a Straussian,) though it should be pointed out that Rush Limbaugh practices a very mild variant and Don Rickles achieved great success at it.

What is truly scary though, is that someone so sure of the truth in his own head has contributed to the PostModernism entries on the wikipedia.

In conclusion, your first was best: adolescent screeds. The only other term that might fit is "holy terror," used both to describe the temper tantrums of two-year olds and the Catholic church. :-)

Posted by: artappraiser | Aug 16, 2006 11:30:39 PM

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