Bloody Well Write

November 12, 2009

Died vs. was killed

Filed under: grammar — bloodywellwrite @ 10:11 am
Tags: , , ,

OK, so this isn’t the most fun entry to write; it still needs to be addressed, so here goes.

Everyone alive is going to die. That’s just how it is. Not fun, but accurate. However, not everyone alive is going to be killed.

That’s very good news.

The bad news is that those who are killed are the very unfortunate ones who die violently and at the hand of at least one very uncool person. And that is, indubitably, putting it mildly.

Let’s take a look at Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” The storyteller says that he shot the sheriff — but it was self-defense. Self-defense or no, if the sheriff dies due to complications from being shot, that would be considered dying a violent death, in which case anyone writing about it could write, “The sheriff was killed.”

So what about the deputy? Did he (assuming that the deputy’s a male) also die? Did he see the sheriff go down and freaked out so much that he went into cardiac arrest right then and there? If so, he died; he wasn’t killed.

Or is there more to the story? Did he get shot, as well? Did the storyteller shoot the deputy but is now lying about it? Or was there a second shooter? Did anyone check the bullet’s exit wound? Where’s the grassy knoll? If this scenario is valid, then he died, but he was also killed.

As the worst of two evils, killed trumps died.

Here’s another example. Let’s say that John Doe has an incurable disease and passes away from complications of that disease. This means that John has died.

Now let’s say that John has an incurable disease and is walking down the sidewalk to his umpteenth visit with his physician when he gets hit by a car driven by his ex-girlfriend, who just can’t get over him and thinks that he has been stepping out on her (she’s a lunatic, mind you). She thinks that all of John’s visits to the female doctor have been dates, and this ex has had it. So she’s decided to sideswipe John. After all, if she can’t have him, nobody can. So John is hit by the car and dies from his injuries. This means that, yes, John has died, but John has been killed.

I suppose you could argue that certain diseases are violent. I’d probably agree with you and say that just about any way to die is violent; I’m avoiding the whole death thing as best as I can. But it’s up to writers to use distinguishing language that gets across exactly what is meant. Hazy definitions are for weathermen, not writers.

It’s all in the details, folks.

So, to overkill a topic:

Died = nonviolent death
Was Killed = violent death

Happy trails!


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