Thursday, 24 December 2009

CNA Teaches You How NOT To Use The Word 'Immolate'

I always thought the word immolate meant to set oneself on fire but apparently Channel NewsAsia knows better. In a report (reproduced below) mildly entitled 'Best friend unable to stop woman from taking own life' - when the fact of the matter is that a desperate old lady who was saddled with debts due to her gambling (addiction?) committed suicide - Shaffiq Alkhatib wows us with his command of the language by bombastically inserting the line "...shortly before she self-immolated".

Unless the poor lady made 'a deliberate and willing sacrifice of herself by fire', it should be just 'immolated' which, at the simplest interpretation, means killing oneself by fire. Mind you though, even using the word 'immolated' is a bit of a stretch as the connotation of the word is that some form of sacrifice was involved - unless the woman was sacrificing herself to the loanshark gods.

Typically, a situation where the word 'self-immolate' would be appropriate is when a devotee sets himself on fire for his god. And whilst we may see people commit suicide by setting themselves on fire, not all is self-immolation. An abused wife who can no longer take the torture and burns herself is different from a wife who burns to exonerate herself from an accusation of adultery (both types of cases do exist in South India).

Well, coming back to the story itself, I wonder why the gambling issue is being glossed over yet again. Whilst CNA focusses on the non-issue of the woman's friend not stopping her from committing suicide, the Straits Times chose to (obediently?) focus on the loanshark problem - i.e. illegal money-lending (where the government doesn't get a cut of the market). At least, Kushwant Singh of the ST had the guts to call it as it is - 'Gambler sets herself ablaze'.

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