Saturday, November 28, 2009

CSI: Woodlands

Before you take a walk in some Swedish woods, read this cautionary tale--an AP news story that I quote almost in full:

Police: Murderous moose a suspect in Swedish death

STOCKHOLM — Swedish police say they've cleared a man who was arrested for allegedly murdering his wife after deciding the culprit was most likely a moose.

Police spokesman Ulf Karlsson says "the improbable has become probable" in the puzzling death last year of 63-year old Agneta Westlund. She was found dead after an evening stroll in the forest.

According to news reports, the victim's husband Ingemar Westlund, was jailed for 10 days. The case against him was dropped in January.

The tabloid Expressen says hairs and saliva from a moose – aka a European elk – were found on the victim's clothes. Police would not immediately confirm that.
The problem here is that the phrase "the victim's husband Ingemar Westlund" is a non-restrictive appositive and, as such, "Ingemar Westlund" should be set off with commas. In other words, the name modifies "victim's husband"  but it is not crucial to the meaning of the sentence, so it needs to be expressed parenthetically. Compare that with "the victim's brother Svend." In that instance, we are distinguishing this brother from her other brothers, Mats and Borje, so it is a restrictive appositive and you can keep the commas in your pocket.

But let's get back to that moose. Notice the headline refers to a "murderous" moose, while at the same time admitting that said moose is a "suspect." If I were the moose's attorney or publicist (and believe me, I've had worse jobs), I would, in the absence of a conviction, object to this characterization of my client. Surely that should read "allegedly murderous moose."