Usage of ‘alleged’

At Language Log, Arnold Zwicky has a post on the misuse of allegedly and reportedly:

bq. I’ve seen numerous reports of some potentially felonious event, like an assault or a drive-by shooting, in which it is said that “the alleged perpetrator/assailant fled the scene”. We’re talking about an unidentified — in fact, for the moment, unidentifiable — person here, so it’s not that anyone’s rights are being protected. The hedge is just cautious icing on the journalistic cake.

This is a problem I’ve seen in students’ translations from German, although I’m not sure why. But at all events, if the German original misuses angeblich, it’s best to correct it in the translation. As is often said, if the style is bad, the translator takes the blame.

This reminds me of the problem of translating in der ehemaligen DDR (in the former German Democratic Republic). It’s often used where it doesn’t make much sense in German. In English, this misuse looks seriously wrong, partly because the expression is much less common than in German. For example, if someone was born in Karl-Marx-Stadt in 1970, they were born in the GDR, not in the former GDR. Nor were they born in Chemnitz, strictly speaking, or at least, if you translate a birth certificate, you do not translate Karl-Marx-Stadt as Chemnitz, a name the city had before and after the GDR.

Zwicky quotes a police blotter (as they say over there). It reminded Mark Liberman (and me!) of the Arcata Eye police blotter (my earlier entry).

Apparently it isn’t fictitious after all. Here’s one of Mark’s quotes illustrating the style:

bq. A man sat with a dog four to six feet from one of the signs that says “NO DOGS” on the Plaza. He claimed an officer said he could sit there and dog up the place, but a City ranger said he’d warned the man to remove his dog a half-hour earlier. He was cited, while the dog’s uncomprehending face glowed with unconditional love for all concerned.

(The last sentence is not typical, but the ‘dog up’ is). Arcata Eye.

The police blotter is a text form new to me. It explains itself, even to British readers (provided they remember ink).

3 thoughts on “Usage of ‘alleged’

  1. Free association with “in der ehemaligen DDR”…

    I had an old friend (who died a couple of years ago) who was born in a German-speaking Jewish enclave in what was, I believe, Hungary at the time, though at some point it was in Romania, and eventually it ended up being in Ukraine — which is to say, in the USSR until it broke up, then just in Ukraine. The poor person who got to write her obituary for the New York Times struggled desperately, but not entirely successfully, to convey some of this information. (Now, grrr, I can’t find the clipping!)

    Then there was the concentration camp and the refugee camp on (I think) Cyprus, which the obit just omitted. She was then described as going to college at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and getting graduate degrees in Ohio (Cincinnati, Ohio State). In the NYT her life history seemed even more disjointed than it actually was. (Ironically, she was a scholar of life histories.)

    Not to be coy about who she was: Tamara Hareven, most recently of the Univ. of Delaware, and before that Clark Univ. The question “Where are you from?” used to produce the most wonderful expression on her face.

  2. Hmm. Sounds like Bukovina, but that can’t have been Hungarian – or perhaps Austro-Hungarian? I am sorry to read your friend died at only 65.

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