"Fairfax County Police Identify Victims of Deadly Triple Homicide in Springfield"

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Language Log (Victor Mair) features this Fox 5 DC News headline.

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  1. Didn’t Justice Scalia write something defending carefully used redundancies as intensifiers? I swear I recall it, but can’t find it, and would appreciate if anyone know where it is.

    Anyway, the theory is that although all homicides are deadly, referring to a homicide as a “deadly triple homicide” intensifies the impact when reading the headline. It’s probably true that substituting “brutal” or “shocking” would convey more information, but the redundancy lets you intensify homicide without altering the connotation, because you said the same thing twice, repeating yourself for emphasis.

    1. Found it. It’s from a discussion between William Safire and Justice Scalia over the following line, which opens Scalia’s dissent in P.G.A. Tour v Martin:

      In my view today’s opinion exercises a benevolent compassion that the law does not place it within our power to impose.

      Definitely read the whole thing, but this bit is particularly Scalia:

      But assuming the premise, is it redundancy to attribute to a noun a quality that it always possesses? Surely not. We speak of “admirable courage” (is courage ever not admirable?); a “cold New England winter” (is a New England winter ever not cold?); the “sweet, green spring” (is springtime ever not sweet and green?). It seems to me perfectly acceptable to use an adjective to emphasize one of the qualities that a noun possesses, even if it always possesses it. The writer wants to stress the coldness of the New England winter, rather than its interminable length, its gloominess, its snowiness and many other qualities that it always possesses. And that is what I was doing with “benevolent compassion” — stressing the social-outreach, maternalistic, goo-goo character of the court’s compassion.

      1. Excellent point, thank you.

  2. I’m not so jaded that I need extra encouragement to take a triple homicide seriously.

  3. The phrase implies that the writer does believe there is such a thing as a non-deadly homicide. I’m intrigued and would like him to explain it.

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