"Bladed items": nerdview?

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After teenager Casey-Lyanne Kearney was found dying in a park in the northern England town of Doncaster yesterday, 26-year-old Hannah Bonser was arrested and charged with murder; but according to various news sources (e.g., Sky News and The Telegraph) she was also "charged with two counts of possessing a bladed item." Why would anyone use such a strange and deliberately vague technical description of a knife?

One naturally wonders whether the "bladed item" was some curious tool that didn't fall under any ordinary heading. (Technically, I suppose it hasn't yet been shown not to have been: although a detective superintendent "said two knives had been recovered at the scene", strictly that doesn't prove either of them to be the murder weapon.)

But I think not saying "charged with carrying a knife" constitutes a slight case of nerdview. The relevant legislation, the Offensive Weapons Act of 1996, makes it an arrestable offense to have with you in a public place, without good reason, an "article with blade or point". "Bladed item" doesn't get many Google hits, but is becoming established in news sources as a way of referring to the sort of knife-like item the legislation aims to stops people from carrying with them, for either attack or defense, when they go out drinking. After all, the pubs need to be free not just of knives but also swords, daggers, cleavers, machetes, chisels, straightedge razors, and all sorts of other items.

There is similar legislation restricting the sale of such bladed or pointed items. As with so much legislation that tries to keep people safe, it sometimes leads to intuitively senseless bothering of innocent people doing innocent things. A 28-year-old woman was recently asked to prove her age before being allowed to buy a two-dollar pizza cutter. It was because of a Marks and Spencer's store policy not to sell bladed items to anyone who appears to be under 25. (Tragically, the cutoff would not have prevented Hannah Bonser from buying the knives she is suspected of having had with her: she is 26. The Daily Mail says "Witnesses have told of seeing a woman, clearly drunk and swearing loudly, on the day of the murder", and if that was Bonser, she would also have been allowed to buy her alcohol at Marks and Spencer's, being over 25.)

What seems to me to have a touch of nerdview about it is using the police insider term "bladed item" rather than the layperson's term "knife" when there is no reason to. The legislation may refer to a wider class of items with blades or points, but that's no reason for thinking you can't truly say of someone that she has been charged with being in possession of a knife in a public place. There was no compelling motivation for using the odd criminal-law insider's term when reporting a reason for arrest to the general public. The Sun, for example, uses the phrase "knifed to death" in reporting the same crime. That could in principle turn out to be an error if the actual weapon was a sharpened screwdriver, but it probably wasn't: the knife is the bladed item of choice for the violent drunks in Britain's pubs and streets and parks.

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