‘Person of interest’? – what happened to the suspect?
December 8, 2005
In 1969 I was assigned to the Deputy Commissioner for Press Relations’ office in the New York City Police Department. This was after I had spent nearly four years writing and editing newspapers in New York and England for the Air Force. I also received a full journalism scholarship in college and wrote for the school paper and edited the yearbook. After I came to Colorado, I was the first Public Information Officer for the Lakewood Department of Public Safety and for the City of Lakewood. I say all of this to give some credibility to my complaint.The language is changing, and I want to know who did it and why. Went missing. Gone missing. Person of interest. Aren’t words fun?I am always taken aback when I read a news story in which the author refers to a victim as a person who “went missing.” I always ask myself the question, “Where is the missing that they went to?” Of course you can take this to the next level, stating that a person was gone missing on a particular date. Gone where?
Maybe this is a case of my getting too old. Maybe I have lived too long and can’t handle what is going on with the English language.I lived in Georgia for a couple of years back in the 1960s when I was in the Air Force. “Went missing” is something I might have heard in the local bar or in a restaurant operated by a fourth-generation Georgian.Perhaps there is nothing inherently wrong with using “went missing” or “gone missing,” but both terms are highly regional or colloquial. To use them in the Deep South is very appropriate, but not even there would they appear in a news story. That is until now. I have not checked, but I am almost certain that I could find the terms in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.Maybe they became part of our language one night while I was sleeping.Another new term that drives me nuts is law enforcement now calling a suspect in a crime a “person of interest.” What is going on with this? Did the politically correct fairly descend from the clouds and all of a sudden declaim that a person is no longer a suspect?
Broderick Crawford is rolling in his grave. When he did the old “Highway Patrol” television series in the 1950s, he would have been laughed all the way back to Hollywood by any self-respecting cop.Jack Webb would not know what to do. He would not be able to keep a straight face on “Dragnet” when he told his partner that the person in custody was a “person of interest.”It almost sounds like a skit on Saturday Night Live. One character could talk about how someone “went missing” or was “gone missing” but that the person walking around with the bloody knife over the body was only a “person of interest.”I would think so.I am sure the “person of interest” thing came from some lawsuit filed in some case in which someone alleged that he had suffered serious emotional harm from being called a “suspect” instead of a “person of interest.” It was probably part of a major court settlement requiring all police from that moment forward to say it instead of suspect.
The “went missing” and “gone missing” thing must have come out of a disappearance in Florida or Alabama. The flacks in New York and Los Angeles picked it up and have used it ever since.I do not want to make fun of any group or occupation, but enough is enough. Imagine the poor immigrant to the United States who is trying to learn English. Every day someone is making up new words and new phrases. Most of us native speakers of English can’t keep up, so how can we expect nonspeakers of the English language to know what we are writing or saying?Or maybe, I am just getting old and the language is going faster than I am.State Rep. Gary Lindstrom of Lakeview Meadows represents Summit, Eagle and Lake counties. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.garylindstrom.com.