I wrote last night about the misguided effort by the editors of the Associated Press Stylebook to discourage the use of the word homophobia. If the editors wanted to do something really useful, they would insert in the next edition an entry cautioning the use of suspect.

As I have pointed out previously, when a crime is committed, you know that there is a perpetrator, a burglar, a robber, a mugger, a shooter, whatever. When someone is identified as the likely burglar/robber/mugger/shooter, then you have a suspect.

But accounts of crimes often blur that distinction, using suspect for perpetrator. I suspect that in the monkey-see-monkey-do world of journalism the writers are merely echoing police reports or statements by departmental spokespersons.* What is in those reports and statements is official, privileged information, and so the officers and spokespersons use formulaic language, copspeak. (That's why the shooting victim is always transported to the hospital. Sounds weightier than taken.)

Thus copspeak creeps into the copy, with this incongruous result: You can read a story about a shooting in which the suspect (not the gunman or the shooter) fires and then flees on foot (never runs away). At the end of the article comes the boilerplate "police have no suspects in the shooting." Then the editor gets to choose between rewriting the sentences or sighing and letting it all go through.

Not that I think a decree from the Olympian heights from which the editors of the AP Stylebook hand down their decrees and ukases will have much effect. Journalists, including the ones who write for AP, don't appear to pay much mind. But a stylebook entry would give a copy editor something to point to.

 

*There, AP, I used spokesperson, too. Get over it.