Thursday, April 7, 2011

Potpourri of Blood

Doesn’t Jerry Seinfeld have a bit about the strangeness of the word manslaughter — that the word meaning “the slaughter of a man” would be associated with a crime less severe than murder? Well, be glad, because you will soon know a much more pleasant-sounding, more whimsical term to refer to the accidental ending of life.

It’s chance medley. Doesn’t that have a happy ring to it, as if it’s perhaps some singalong that spontaneously arises to the delight and joy of all present? Well, the term refers to a phenomenon that’s a lot like a spontaneously singalong, except instead of people singing, it’s people dying. Old English law once defined chance medley — from the French chance-medlee, “mixed chance” — as a homicide that resulted from a sudden quarrel or fight. As Wikipedia puts it, it’s essentially a synonym for manslaughter — worse that an outright accident but not as bad as planned murder, or least in the legal sense, anyway, because the person reduced to a corpse probably doesn’t care one way or the other.

So remember: The next time your barroom brawl ends up shedding just a little too much blood, you’re not a manslaughterer. You’re just a hapless witness to a chance medley.

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