Language Questions

It’s hard to be a writer if you don’t love words. I find them endlessly fascinating. I’m often struck by the the tiny differences in usages across the English speaking world. It’s the sort of thing that a writer needs to be aware of when you’re writing characters from a different background or stories set in a foreign land.

One that I remember noticing as a kid is “shot to death”. That sounds incredibly American to my ears. We’d never say that in British English, certainly not in formal British English. A newsreader would say “shot dead,” or “fatally shot,” or “shot and fatally wounded.” I think that those phrases mean different things. ‘Shot dead’ means shot once or twice and died immediately. ‘Fatally shot’, means they were shot at least once and died at the scene or on the way to the hospital. ‘Shot and fatally wounded’ means that they made it to hospital and maybe even into surgery but they ultimately died as a result of their wounds.

We absolutely would say “beaten to death,” or “stabbed to death,” though. Maybe it’s the implication of effort. If someone was shot to death it sounds like they took a lot of shooting.

When a newsreader says that someone was “fatally stabbed,” that sounds like they were stabbed a once or twice and probably died at the scene. If they “died as a result of fatal stab wounds” then you imagine they made it to hospital but couldn’t be saved. However if they were “stabbed to death” you know the SOCO (Scene Of Crime Officer) was estimating the number of stab wounds from the blood spatter on the walls and ceilings.

So when I hear an American newsreader say that someone was “shot to death” I’m imagining Tommy guns. I’m not sure if that’s what it means though. Is it just some overly sensationalist way of saying shot dead? Maybe that’s why it sounds so wrong? It’s a phrasing that seems to suggest that it’s not dramatic enough that someone’s been shot dead.

Published by


Older than you think. Swears a lot. Writer. Owner of the Walking-Stick-of-Doom. Has a personal backstory so tragic it could win Britain's got talent on its own.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s