Is there a discernable qualifier for what makes a murder an assassination?

I just realized that I don’t know what it is, if one does exist. Yes, I know that “assassination” has more appeal as a sound bite in the media’s eyes. But at what point does a murder become an assassination? I looked up both words and ol’ Merriam-Webster tells me this:

Which is good, but you never hear of a crackhead or a homeless person being “assassinated”. When I believe many times, definition wise, it would work just fine. However, they are always “murdered”.
So where’s the line?

I think the main qualifier nowadays is that the target needs to be a person in some sort of power. Government figures, generally, although it could probably also apply to wealthy, high-profile types and such.

I think the key line in the definition is “for impersonal reasons”. Assassinations are murders commited for political reasons.

I can think of a few cases that would still be hard to classify. If Saddam Hussein had been killed in a bomb attack during the Gulf War, would that have counted? Can an act of war be considered an assassination? John Hinkley had no political motivation that I know of, but if Reagan had died it probably would have been called an assassination. I also just saw a documentary about the hostage taking at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Three of the Palestinians were captured and gained their freedom when they were traded for other hostages in an airline hijacking. Two of the three have been killed in the years since, allegedly by Israeli agents. Would revenge for a terroristic/political act be considered assassination. I think “for impersonal reasons” may be as close a definition as we’re likely to come up with.

I’d have to disagree that only rich/ powerful people are assassinated. I would argue that if you were singling out homeless people and shooting them from rooftops in the skid row area, the news would call that ‘assassination’.

I think I would make the distinction by saying that it is a murder unless:

  1. It is done for non-monetary or immediate personal emotional gain. That is, you did not get paid to do it (hitman) and you did not do it because you personally had a beef with the target (i.e. he raped/molested/murdered my child, wife, sister, etc. and I want revenge to even the score). In this sense, I’d have to say the political power/ rich bastard scenario OCC mentions is right on.

  2. (Corrolary to rule 1): The murder is committed at a distance (i.e. rifle) while still targeting a specific person. I mention the ‘specific person’ because I think you have to distinguish this from a bomb left in a random public place that kills random people (terrorism) or perhaps randomly opening fire on a crowd with a machine gun because they are the ‘wrong’ race, color, religion, nationality, etc. that kills a specific type of group, but is not aimed at killing any one specific group.

I suppose along these same lines, we need to ask when you have killed enough different types of people that you go from ‘ethnic cleansing’ to ‘genocide’

I think the rule of the street is an assassination is paid for, a murder is not.

punk snot dead

You mean it’s murder if you do get paid for it or you are settling an emotional score? What if you are paid by your country to kill a political leader?

An assassination has a victim someone killed because of their job/position/political stance: president, pope, prime minister, queen, civil rights leader.

E.g., John Hinkley shot Reagan not because he hated Ronnie personally, but because he thought someone would be impressed that he did it.

But say, Prince Charles had heard one too many Camilla comments from Queen Elizabeth and killed her for that. That’s just plain murder, even though it was once the way to become king.

Well, as your definition suggests, assassination is to murder by sudden or secret attack usually for impersonal reasons. So, what’s the difference between murder and assassination? It’s right there in the definition. Assassination is a specific type of murder (duh, you say).

But, broccoli says that assassinations are paid for. I don’t think so. Hits are paid for, and may be a certain type of assassination.

So, what is assassination then? I think the above definition may be adequate. Basically, it is murder that is committed by someone with little or no relationship to the victim, and not committed during an argument or confrontation (hence the sudden or secret attack). So, just walking up to someone you don’t really know, and for no reason at all suddenly shooting them in the back of the head, would probably classify as an assassination. However, most times the word is employed in cases of this happening to victims in a position of power or prestige.

Not necessarily from a distance. For example, the first ever assassination caught on film (motion picture, I believe), was that of King Alexander of Yugoslavia. The assassin jumped up on the running board of the King’s car and fired point blank into the King.

I think this is an excellent example of the definition of a certain word changing to suit the needs of the times – or at least, the needs of people who use the word to refer to people who die notorious deaths.

The callous, impersonal nature of certain murders – mob hits, drive by shootings, etc. – may qualify for the word ‘assasination’. In my mind, however, it sounds misused when extended to cover the death someone who’s not a person of power, wealth, fame or influence. Even then, it still doesn’t sound right to me, to call John Lennon’s death an assassination or the assassination of Biggie Smalls, or even the assassination of the Melendezes by their sons, Erik and Kyle.

I’m not certain you can the death of a head of state during war an assassination unless it’s an planned action specifically targeted for that person. There’s a technological gap there, too. Saddam Hussein’s being bombed out of a bunker by a bunch of Scuds that also took out a bunch of other people around him would scarcely qualify, but the suitcase bomb planted under a conference table designed to take out Hitler (but failed to kill him) would almost certainly have been called an assassination had it worked. Many history texts call it an ‘attempted assassination.’