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View Full Version : Doesn't "slain" usually imply murder?


Equipoise
12-22-2007, 07:10 PM
I saw this headline on the front page of the online Chicago Sun-Times a few minutes ago:

Astronaut, family plan service for slain mom (http://www.suntimes.com/news/metro/702050,cst-nws-astro22.article)

and thought, how terrible, an astronaut's mother was murdered? But when clicking through to the story (which has a different title, btw) the astronaut's mother (Rose Tani, mom to Daniel Tani, who's aboard the Space Station now) died when she drove her car around a school bus onto train tracks, and was hit by a train.

I'm sorry, that's not being "slain" to me, that's...well, since it's not the Pit and she was 90 years old, I won't say, but it's not being slain. It's being killed, though "Astronaut, family plan service for killed mom" doesn't sound right either, and "...dead mom" sounds too morbid.

Does "slain" have a broader meaning than I was aware of or did someone screw up at the Sun-Times? What better word could have been used in that particular sentence?


(ETA whew! caught the infer/imply mistake just in time!)

chaoticbear
12-22-2007, 07:35 PM
I see your point. Maybe "late mother"? "Mourning the loss of his mother"?

Random
12-22-2007, 07:39 PM
I&ve seen it newspaper headlines fairly regularly in this sense. (Death must be sudden and violent though.)

Equipoise
12-22-2007, 07:43 PM
Maybe I associate "slain" with murdered people because I've heard it used such so often. Slain journalist Daniel Pearl. Slain student nurses. Slain college roommates, things like that. This is the first time I've heard it used for an accident victim. I'll bet it wouldn't make the poor train engineer feel better to hear that she was "slain" though. It sure wasn't his fault.

Kevbo
12-22-2007, 07:52 PM
It needs to be intentionally done at the hand of another person. That is not always murder.

Mister Rik
12-22-2007, 07:57 PM
The headline writer was bustin' a rhyme. 'Cuz she was slain by a train.

Equipoise
12-22-2007, 07:59 PM
It needs to be intentionally done at the hand of another person. That is not always murder.But the train engineer didn't intentionally hit her, he had no say in the matter, so that doesn't work.

chaoticbear
12-22-2007, 08:24 PM
The headline writer was bustin' a rhyme. 'Cuz she was slain by a train.

Lawls! I didn't even click the link to see that she was killed by a train. I think the word "slain" is OK then.

yabob
12-22-2007, 08:34 PM
The dictionary just says "to kill violently", with no mention of murderous intent. That matches what I understand the word to mean, and I wouldn't have a problem with the the headline.

ETA:

And not necessarily by a person. One can be slain by an animal or act of God.

Nanoda
12-22-2007, 08:45 PM
I've always understood the word to include implied intent, whether it be a serial murderer or a rabid weasel doing the killing.

I checked some dictionary links and they seem to back up yabob, but I would certainly have had the same confusion finding out it was train-crossing related.

DSYoungEsq
12-22-2007, 11:45 PM
1: to kill violently, wantonly, or in great numbers; broadly : to strike down : kill

From Merriam-Webster Online (http://www.m-w.com).

So first of all, it doesn't have to be a person who slays, and second of all, intent is not needed. Both are requirements of murder. So the assumption that murder is involved anytime someone or something is slain is incorrect.

Equipoise
12-22-2007, 11:54 PM
Huh, I learn something new every day here at the SDMB! Let's hope that if the train driver sees the headline, he'll have smart people around to explain that it doesn't mean he murdered her.

Thanks everyone.

yabob
12-23-2007, 12:14 AM
You can also find people "slain" by natural disasters in newspaper accounts. That usage has precedent as far back as the King James bible:
And the same hour was there a great earthquake, and the tenth part of the city fell, and in the earthquake were slain of men seven thousand: and the remnant were affrighted, and gave glory to the God of heaven.
Revelation 11:13

I suppose that you can observe that God is doing the slaying, using an earthquake as his tool in that passage, but newspapers have been known to say things like "6 slain as tornado touches down in trailer court".

Mister Rik
12-23-2007, 04:20 AM
It's kind of like "smite". The word simply means "hit" or "strike". But in Western culture we're familiar with smiting being something a god does, so it carries connotations of being extremely serious. (In Dungeons & Dragons, the paladin has a special ability called "Smite Evil", where he can deal extra damage to an evil creature. Technically, anybody smacking somebody else is "smiting" them, but when the paladin or a god does it, it's "Smiting" with a capital S.

Khadaji
12-23-2007, 07:10 AM
I have seen "Hundreds slain by tornado" or "family of four slain by flash flood" or "Hunter slain by bear." So for me it does not imply murder or even intent.

Wendell Wagner
12-23-2007, 07:23 AM
The other interesting thing is that "slay" or any of its derived forms like "slain" are used in contemporary English mostly in newspaper headlines. I think that I was told once that they were so used only in American newspaper headlines. Is it true that "slain" isn't used in non-American headlines?

Rashaverak
12-23-2007, 08:13 AM
The other interesting thing is that "slay" or any of its derived forms like "slain" are used in contemporary English mostly in newspaper headlines. I think that I was told once that they were so used only in American newspaper headlines. Is it true that "slain" isn't used in non-American headlines?

Just anecdotally, I've never seen it in a British newspaper headline. To me "slain" has an archaic ring to it; I only ever seem to encounter it in pre C20 literature.

TheLoadedDog
12-23-2007, 08:44 AM
Just anecdotally, I've never seen it in a British newspaper headline. To me "slain" has an archaic ring to it; I only ever seem to encounter it in pre C20 literature.

Really? I see it a bit in Australian newspapers, but I must say it does have that air of one of those words that reporters dredge up so as not to repeat themselves too quickly within a few sentences:

Eg: "A man was murdered in an inner suburb last night. The thirty-eight year-old was killed when he disturbed intruders. The slain man's name has not been released."

LSLGuy
12-23-2007, 11:28 AM
Count me as a another who believed (until a couple of posts ago) that slain implied intentional violence. Once could be slain by a murderer or a bear or maybe an incompetent hunter, but not by a drunk driver or a virus or a heart attack. And there's no way one could slay oneself, even if by really crappy driving (ref the OP) or even suicidal intent.

And online dictionaries be damned, I think my take is pretty close to US standard usage.

[Rant On]
Now I think you can be killed by a murderer or a bear, or an incompetent hunter, or a drunk driver. And you can certainly kill yourself by crappy driving or a myriad of intentional acts. But you die from or of a virus or a heart attack.

Actually, that's not quite right. It's OK-not-great to speak of someone being killed by a virus or heart attack, but it's flat wrong to say someone died from an attempted murder, bear attack, or car accident regardless of cause.


One of my pet peeves is news articles which refer to someone dying in a violent way. No, NO, NO!! They were killed. Dying is when your body gives out more or less on its own. Being killed is when an otherwise functioning body is interfered with to the point of catastrophic malfunction. Nobody dies in plane crash; they all were killed.

But somehow died sounds less harsh & mealy-mouthed writers trying to soften the story often refer to innocents dying, while anyone at fault can be killed wth impunity.

[/Rant Off]

Thudlow Boink
12-23-2007, 12:09 PM
FWIW you can count me as another who thinks the word was used inappropriately: I too would have drawn the wrong conclusion from that headline.
"Slain" to me implies that there was somebody doing the slaying.

("And hast thou slain the jabberwock?")

AskNott
12-23-2007, 12:34 PM
I sounds wrong to my ear, too. Headlines are rarely written by the journalist herself. Some harried guy, on a tight deadline, smites out all the paper's headlines to fit the available space in a short time. I'm willing to give the headline a little slack for that reason.

"Slain" was not used in the text of the story, just the headline.

DSYoungEsq
12-23-2007, 03:15 PM
You know, just because you had an incorrect understanding of the use of the word doesn't mean your understanding was correct, right? :dubious:

Now, to give another example, my New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary of the English Language (Encyclopedic edition), 1989 edition, defines slay as: to kill violently. Again, notice that there is no indication of intent involved, nor is it necessary that a human be doing it.

So, you can't be "slain" by, say, an injection of drugs, but you can be slain by someone smashing a car into you (regardless of intent).

Larry Mudd
12-23-2007, 03:58 PM
It seems to me that (as a matter of style) in contemporary work-a-day English the word "slay" should be reserved for deliberate killing. Applying it to disaster or accident is really only appropriate in a literary/figurative mode. (Apart from as an archaism.)

From wordsmyth: (http://www.wordsmyth.net/live/home.php?script=search&matchent=slay&matchtype=exact) Definition 1. to kill or murder deliberately and usu. violently.
Synonyms waste (4) , murder (1)
Crossref. Syn. dispatch , butcher , destroy
Similar Words execute , assassinate , kill , destroy , slaughterFrom wordnet (http://poets.notredame.ac.jp/cgi-bin/wn?cmd=wn&word=slay):The verb slay has 1 sense

1. murder, slay, hit, dispatch, bump off, off, polish off, remove -- (kill intentionally and with premeditation; ``The mafia boss ordered his enemies murdered'' )From rhymezone (http://www.rhymezone.com/r/rhyme.cgi?Word=slay):Definitions of slay:

verb: kill intentionally and with premeditation

SmackFu
12-23-2007, 04:56 PM
Slain is clearly moving away from the old meaning that is given in the dictionaries, if most people treat it as a synonym for "murdered". I don't really think citing dictionary definitions proves anything at all.

Larry Mudd
12-23-2007, 05:35 PM
Slain is clearly moving away from the old meaning that is given in the dictionaries, if most people treat it as a synonym for "murdered". I don't really think citing dictionary definitions proves anything at all.That move isn't exactly recent. Webster's 1828 (http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/search/word,slay)SLAY, v.t. pret. slew; pp. slain. [The proper sense is to strike, and as beating was an early mode of killing, this word, like smite, came to signify to kill. It seems to be formed on the root of lay; as we say to lay on.]

1. To kill; to put to death by a weapon or by violence. We say, he slew a man with a sword, with a stone, or with a club, or with other arms; but we never say, the serif slays a malefactor with a halter, or a man is slain on the gallows or by poison. So the slay retains something of its primitive sense of striking or beating. It is particularly applied to killing in battle, but is properly applied also to the killing of a individual man or beast.

2. To destroy.Already we see an established literal sense of "slaying" being carried out by an actor. Of course it can be used in a figurative sense - (eg; "slain by cancer") - but this is out of place in a newspaper headline, where (without the context provided in the body of the article) people are naturally going to receive the impression that the woman died as the result of a personal attack.

Larry Mudd
12-23-2007, 05:42 PM
Crap, missed the edit window.

...This is why style guides are so useful in publication - in a condensed form of communication like headline-writing, you need to be mindful of the dominant sense of the words you're using, and make substitutions where it improves clarity. You wouldn't want a headline like, "Chief Justice' ejaculation raises eyebrows" where the story is actually about an extemporaneous remark. Well, not unless you're one of those papers.

DSYoungEsq
12-23-2007, 07:57 PM
Yes, it is important to understand that, to the extent that dictionaries are referenced in situations like this, it's not for the purpose of saying, "the Dictionary establishes the meaning," but rather to say, "the Dictionary says this because it is how it is used by most people." Since meaning is mutable, it may be that at some point in the future, "slay" may come to have a more narrow meaning. However, *I* certainly do not consider myself unusual in thinking it to still have the more broad meaning referenced by my citations above.

Zsofia
12-24-2007, 12:19 AM
The other interesting thing is that "slay" or any of its derived forms like "slain" are used in contemporary English mostly in newspaper headlines. I think that I was told once that they were so used only in American newspaper headlines. Is it true that "slain" isn't used in non-American headlines?
The funny thing is that the newspaper use has become so ingrained that it's sort of in your head as a part of some people's name - slain-civil-rights-leader-Martin-Luther-King comes to mind.

In regular speech, one slays dragons, or is "slain" ironically by a bad joke.

kdeus
12-25-2007, 11:36 PM
I think it is country specific. For example, "The slain in Spain die mainly from the train"

Cervaise
12-26-2007, 11:14 AM
But the train engineer didn't intentionally hit her, he had no say in the matterNot necessarily. Perhaps he made a split-second choice to switch to this branching track because the one he was originally on had ten astronaut grannies on it, and he thought it better to kill one than ten.

Shagnasty
12-26-2007, 12:23 PM
I grew up knowing a very strange old hermit who was a retired train engineer. His name was Skeeter. He lived next door to Terry Bradshaw's farm and had a large pet alligator named Baby that would come out of the water when called and follow Skeeter around including into his house. My father used to take me and my brother to see them and I would feed Baby whole chickens by hand.

Skeeter would sometimes just start talking about his days as a train engineer. He referred to the people that he hit as "deadoned". I think that is a good term to use here.

"Astronaut, Family Plan Service for Deadoned Mom"

Larry Mudd
12-26-2007, 12:27 PM
"Astronaut, Family Plan Service for Deadoned Mom"I feel terrible for laughing out loud at that. Over the holidays, too. Unconscionable mirth.

I am deeply, profoundly ashamed of myself. I hope you are too, you wretch.

Ha!

Fatwater Fewl
12-26-2007, 02:03 PM
I&ve seen it newspaper headlines fairly regularly in this sense. (Death must be sudden and violent though.)
I think Random's on the right track (so to speak) here. Slain does not imply murder. We use verbs like slain and killed in the context of sudden, violent deaths because they have connotations of causation but not necessarily of intent.

The problem we have with headlines like "Astronaut, family plan memorial service for slain mom" is that we infer intent or an intentional causal agent from the causative construction of the verb phrase "slain mom [a mom was slain]" but when we read the article we realize that there can be no intent construable when an elderly woman is struck by a train while committing the extremely idiotic act of passing a school bus at a railroad crossing.

Headline writers are constrained by the telegraphic nature of headlines, which often results in clumsy constructions as they attempt to impart maximum information in a minimum of words. In this case, whoever wrote the headline probably used the best possible verb for the structure of that particular headline: "killed mom" might cause even more readers to infer intent, plus it sounds even more clumsy than "slain mom"; "dead mom" is too vague (and too cold); "deceased mom" doesn't have the connotation of sudden and violent and so doesn't fit the facts. Etc.

rocking chair
12-26-2007, 06:22 PM
i always pictured "slain" as a rather bloody death or murder; with parts hither and yon. a death brought on by sharp objects. stabbing, slashing, biting, clawing, etc.

i guess a train could fit in.... trains crashing into cars seem a bit blunt. just doesn't seem sharp enough for me to have used "slain." the wheels may be sharp enough for slain if they run over a physical being. but she was hit by the train while in a vehicle. the wheels may not have touched her body.

i would have gone with killed in an accident or killed in a wreck with a train. not slain.

to go with a more current news item: i could see using slain in connection with a tiger attack.

Cervaise
12-26-2007, 07:04 PM
"killed mom" might cause even more readers to infer intent, plus it sounds even more clumsy than "slain mom"; "dead mom" is too vague (and too cold); "deceased mom" doesn't have the connotation of sudden and violent and so doesn't fit the facts. Etc.Mumdaver?

Fatwater Fewl
12-26-2007, 09:01 PM
Ouch, Cervaise. That's so bad I almost like it. By the way, I did get a chuckle out your earlier allusion to the train moral dilemma.

Oh, and I just realized DSYoungEsq had already covered my points about intent and cause earlier in the thread, and that AskNott had already made my point about headline space. Sorry, folks.

DSYoungEsq
12-26-2007, 11:11 PM
I hope you punished it as it deserved, Fatwater Fewl. :eek:

Fatwater Fewl
12-27-2007, 12:07 PM
I hope you punished it as it deserved, Fatwater Fewl. :eek:
I wanted to, but I thought that might be inviting really bad comma. :D

Acsenray
12-27-2007, 12:55 PM
I agree that "slain" carries a connotation of intent.

However, headline writers get a lot of leeway.

DSYoungEsq
12-27-2007, 01:55 PM
I agree that "slain" carries a connotation of intent.

However, headline writers get a lot of leeway.
But it doesn't, that's the whole point.

Larry Mudd
12-28-2007, 03:05 PM
Huh? The connotation is strong enough that it is relatively common for dictionaries to state that the word actually denotes intent, beyond connoting it.

DSYoungEsq
12-28-2007, 05:14 PM
Huh? The connotation is strong enough that it is relatively common for dictionaries to state that the word actually denotes intent, beyond connoting it.
Um, as the links I've established show, most dictionaries do NOT include intent as part of the definition. Violence, yes, but intent, no.

Larry Mudd
12-28-2007, 06:57 PM
There is no argument that most dictionaries suggest that "slay" denotes intentional killing, but a significant number actually do.

Nobody in this thread is arguing that the word has this literal meaning, but it is certainly an indication that it has acquired the connotation.

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