Legalese and the Slaughter of Men

I write for a humor blog with two friends, James Malins and Cherie Michiko, called Misusing Big Words. This post was originally published here:
http://misusingbigwords.blogspot.com/2008/04/legalese-and-slaughter-of-men.html
When you hear the word "slaughter," what image comes to mind?

For me, it's cows—a steady procession of beef walking into a slaughterhouse, where something happens that involves sharp instruments and lots and lots of blood and results in my being able to order a 12 oz. rib-eye at Black Angus. I highly doubt I'm the only one that thinks of this when the word is heard.

This is the reason I'm confused about the legal term "manslaughter." Though some people think it's a silly word because it sounds like a combination of "mans" and "laughter," I think it's an absurd word the way it's currently used in our legal system. Manslaughter is either the voluntary or involuntary killing of a human, but without intent or malice, whereas murder involves intent or malice. So, murder is clearly the worse crime. But tell me, just by looking at and hearing the words murder and manslaughter, which one sounds worse?

(Admittedly, since the Merriam-Webster woman's voice is more soothing, manslaughter sounds kind of nice, but just bear with me anyway.)

Manslaughter evokes the same image as the cows, only instead of beef heading to their death, it's a line of dudes on a conveyor, chatting about the Packers game or debating the merits of Kobe vs. Lebron, all while moving slowly toward a big shiny metal machine that will kill them efficiently and without holding up the line. I personally think that sounds much worse than murder.

With this in mind, I propose a name change, and I have several possible replacement names to consider:
  • The Big Whoopsie - This would take the place of involuntary manslaughter, because essentially that's what it is: someone was doing something stupid and someone else died because of it. That's not just a whoopsie, that's a Big Whoopsie.

  • The 'Oh Shit, Man' - This would take the place of voluntary manslaughter, which is usually a crime of passion or the result of being provoked. This name comes from the phrase that would most likely be uttered after the crime has been committed by the person who committed the crime, when he or she realizes what just happened. For example: "Wait, did I just kill that guy? Oh Shit, Man."
Whether or not this knocks any sense into the heads of any of the people who have the power to change this sort of thing, the main point I hope everyone takes away from this is that the legal term "manslaughter" is an incredibly misused big word. And while we may enjoy misusing big words on a blog, there's no room for that sort of silliness in a court room.
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