Tuesday, April 02, 2013


Investigated over 300 deaths: meaning?

A recent list of news headlines might not seem ambiguous at first glance.  We probably all read it according to what we wish to find.
Coroners, I do believe, must investigate hundred of hospital deaths in the course of their careers.  In fiction, whistle-blowers and other heroes take--or have thrust upon them--investigative initiatives.  Surely the Brazilian nurse, or doctor, or both were such heroic investigators.  Or were they?

Would "suspected of 300 hospital deaths" have been too hard to think of? Or must we suppose that it would have been "investigated more than" in the opposite case. 

The meaning of "over" in this case could be in association with either
  1. "investigated": was or would be investigated over something, meaning (to be) investigated because of something.
  2. "300": over 300 something is investigated (did investigate) more than 300 something.
The ambiguity arises because the rationale for investigating is stated using a number, and "investigated" could be either a past active form (as "did investigate") or a present participle (as "is being investigated"). There are many ways to avoid this ambiguity. For one, a simple change from "300" to "hundreds of" (or "scads of") would suffice, since "over hundreds of" does not make sense, making it clear what was meant is "investigated over." Another possibility is to remove "over" by writing "suspected of" instead of "investigated over," as suggested above.

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