Here are two snippets from news items about the actor Shia LaBeouf, who was recently involved in a car accident:
Shia LaBeouf has been released from hospital in Los Angeles, five days after he crushed his hand in a car crash. (Contact Music, Aug. 2)
The "Transformers" star didn't just injure, but crushed his hand in the crash last Sunday that flipped his truck, reports The Associated Press. (Metro NY, Aug. 4)
I'm not happy with either of these sentences. My internal verb-ometer tells me that crush just doesn't work that way.
In both cases, crush is operating as a member of a class that Beth Levin refers to as "HURT verbs" in her indispensable book, English Verb Classes and Alternations. Members of this verb class, which can take a body part as a direct object, include:
bark (shin), bite (lip), break, bruise, bump, burn, chip (tooth), cut, fracture, hurt, injure, nick (chin, leg), prick (finger), pull (muscle), rupture, scald, scratch (chin), skin (knee), split (lip), sprain (ankle, back, knee, wrist), strain, stub (toe), turn (ankle), twist (ankle)
These verbs relate to the occurrence of damage to the body through a process that is not under control of the person that suffers the damage. … The subject involuntarily injures himself or herself and does not intentionally inflict an injury on himself or herself.
Some of the verbs allow intentional interpretations along with unintentional ones. Thus sentences like "I injured my leg" or "I bumped my head" could refer to purposive action that a person inflicts on his or her own body, depending on the context. To my mind's ear, however, the verb crush with a body part as direct object only fits an intentional reading when the subject of the verb is the owner of the body part. So saying "Shia crushed his hand" sounds downright odd when the context is a car accident.
If the subject is the source of the injury rather than the possessor of the body part, then "crush + body part" works just fine:
Apparently the truck crushed his hand and leg and he has a concussion. (TMZ comment, July 27)
Shia LaBeouf could have a long road before him as he recovers from the accident that crushed his hand, his lawyer says. (AP, Aug. 1)
And of course, passive constructions are no problem either, as in the statement from LaBeouf's lawyer and paraphrases thereof:
"The force of (the) impact immediately flipped Shia's vehicle over, and, as a result, Shia's left hand was crushed," said his attorney Michael Norris in a statement. (People, Aug. 1)
Mr. LaBeouf's left hand was crushed and he underwent four hours of surgery, his lawyer, Michael Norris, said. (NY Times, Aug. 4)
Just speculating here, but perhaps the writers of the first two sentences above originally used passives, along the lines of:
Shia LaBeouf has been released from hospital in Los Angeles, five days after his hand was crushed in a car crash.
The "Transformers" star's hand wasn't just injured, but crushed in the crash last Sunday that flipped his truck.
And then perhaps the writers' respective editors (or their internal self-editors) recast the sentences as active, under the misguided notion that passive constructions should be avoided in all cases. No adjustment was made, however, for the fact that in the active voice crush doesn't quite work like other injurious verbs of the HURT class. Then again, maybe my native-speaker intuitions on this are out of whack. Thoughts?