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An Alleged Blog Post

February 12th, 2004 · No Comments

So, I got randomly to thinking about the use of the word “allegedly” in jounalism in the shower this morning. One thing I’m noticed is that the use of the adverb is so automatic—probably a good thing in general, good to be careful about what you say about people in news, and not just for legal reasons—that it’s often included when it’s clearly inappropriate, sometimes to humorous effect. For example, you occasionally will see the construction: Such-and such was convicted of allegedly doing X. And due process has not quite eroded to that point yet, as far as I know.

But I also got thinking to the way the adjective-noun use (alleged robber, alleged killer, etc.) might be inferior to more long-winded constructions. Compare:

The alleged robber, Joe, was arraigned today.

Now, consider the other sorts of adjectives we might normally plug in there. A “red-haired robber” or a “college educated robber” or what have you is a certain kind of robber. An “alleged robber” may not be any kind of robber at all, but the grammar may (I’m speculating) make us more prone to subconsciously assimilate it to the more usual case. He’s a robber and someone called him that. Then there’s:

Joe, who is accused of robbing the store, was arraigned today.

Better, but the passive “is accused” still makes the accusation a kind of property floating in space. Best, perhaps, would be:

Joe, who police and prosecutors charge robbed the store, was arraigned today


That one reminds us that one person is being accused of something by a specific set of other, fallible human beings. Always good to bear that in mind, especially in criminal cases. It’d be interesting to do a study, where you gave two groups of people news stories about, say, the Martha Stuart case, where the only difference was that one used the first construction, and another the last, then asked them to assess her guilt. I wouldn’t be surprised if you found them more apt to judge her guilty in the first group.

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