Tuesday, October 25, 2022

We've been had

My eminent colleague Karen Conlin posted this morning an awkward sentence published by a Chicago television station: "A man killed in a shooting outside a Chicago Greyhound bus terminal in the West Loop on Harrison Street has had his identity released." It presents two issues, one grammatical and one journalistic. 

For the first, the verb "had" commonly suggests agency: "She had the leak in the roof fixed." "They had their wills and powers of attorney drawn up." But journalists frequently use "had" to indicate merely that something has happened, as in the specimen sentence, which suggests that the dead man released his identity posthumously. The examples of "had" meaning "happened" aren't always this ludicrous, but they always strike a false note. 

The reason journalists use this construction is to make sure they have something up front in the sentence to draw the reader's attention. It would have been easy to write "Police released yesterday the identify of a man killed. ..." But "Police released ..." is a yawn. "Man killed in shooting outside Greyhound bus station" is the most interesting thing the writer can offer, particularly since this looks like a second-day story with the identification the only new element. 

And the identity isn't in the opening sentence, likely because the victim was not anyone notable.

This specimen sentence has not had itself edited.