Friday, October 14, 2005

'Completed' suicide

In a recent story about those trying to change views on suicide, The State newspaper in Columbia adopted the group's term "completed" suicide.

Advocates use the word “complete” instead of “commit” as a way of trying to break the stigma attached to suicide.
The article went on to use "complete" instead of "commit" throughout. A student questioned that, so I threw the question open to the American Copy Editors Society listserv, where the reaction was almost uniformly negative. There also was a backdoor message from Pam Wood at the AMA, which I think provides a lot of insight. She has given me permission to post it:

Both "completed suicide" and "committed suicide" have places in the medical literature, but they're not interchangeable terms.

"Completed suicide" is used to differentiate the act from attempted suicide and other suicide gestures. It's a noun phrase. (eg: Attempted and completed suicide rates are higher among those who live alone
because of separation, divorce, or spouse's death. Of about 200,000 suicide attempts in the USA each year, 10% are completed.

Committed suicide is the action, and is a verb phrase. (In one study, 10% of alcoholics committed suicide. More than half of persons who commit suicide have consulted their physician within the previous few months.)

(All examples from the same entry in the Merck Manual)

To my knowledge (and I do usually hear about it), none of the major medical groups have expressed an opinion on terminology.

Pam Wood
chief copy editor
American Medical News
The State did use committed in the hed on this Philadelphia Inquirer sports story yesterday.


At 10/24/05, 2:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Ms. Wood's last sentence, is she correct by saying "none ... have?" I've always thought the word takes singular verbs or pronouns, but after checking AP, I learned if the sense is "no two" or "no amount", one would use a plural verb.
So, what sense is she using here?

(Sorry to post anonymously, but I've forgotten by blogspot password)

At 10/24/05, 9:51 AM, Blogger Doug said...

None is a word in transition. AP still mandates none-has in most uses, reasoning that none most commonly means not one.

But the New York Times, for instance, mandates none-have in most instances. Stylebooks and newsrooms differ on it right now. I suspect it will be none-have before long.


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