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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Dangerous offenders

"Murderer declared dangerous offender," the headline reads.

Well, DUH! you may think.

Unless you're Canadian.

In Canadian English "dangerous offender" is a legal term with a specific meaning (not just an offender who happens to be dangerous):
a person who has been convicted of a serious personal injury offence and constitutes a threat to the life, safety, or physical or mental well-being of others, and whose history suggests little hope of reform, who is imprisoned indefinitely.
This classification has existed since the late 1960s in Canada.

A recent headline in The Globe and Mail would no doubt cause some puzzlement to non-Canadians:
Saskatchewan man who beat woman, set her on fire not dangerous offender: judge
In fact the decision in this gruesome case probably also caused some puzzlement to many Canadians, but not so much of the linguistic kind.

Since 2003, British law has also had a "dangerous offender" classification, with a somewhat different definition:
dangerous offenders will be given an extended sentence of imprisonment, which is a determinate sentence of which the defendant must serve at least half. The defendant may be released during the second half of the sentence, providing he receives a positive recommendation from the Parole Board. In addition to the extended sentence provisions under the Act, dangerous offenders must also receive extended supervision periods of up to five years for nonviolent offenders and up to eight years for violent offenders. 

Would you like to know more about the history of the English language (including the particularities of Canadian English)? If you live in the Greater Toronto area, sign up for my fun course this fall:
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Bachelor for Rent: Things You Never Suspected About Canadian English”
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An entertaining look at how Hebrew and Yiddish words have enriched the English language for thousands of years

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.