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Germanwings Crash: 'Suicide' Doesn't Seem To Tell The Story

As NPR reports about the crash of a Germanwings passenger jet and the deaths of all 150 people on board, one of the words editors are weighing carefully is "suicide."

Investigators have said they believe co-pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately flew the plane into a mountain in the French Alps.

Suicide, Websters New Word College Dictionary says, is the act of "killing oneself intentionally."

But Merriam-Webster elaborates: suicide is "the act of killing yourself because you do not want to continue living." That introduces the idea that the person's state of mind and motivation are important. It strikes us that it's not possible at this point — and may never be — to know what Lubitz was thinking.

Then there's this: As Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr said this week, when someone is responsible for so many lives, "it's more than suicide," if Lubitz is to blame for their deaths.

For now, as Weekend Edition Saturday's "Word Matters" conversation explores, NPR is avoiding the word "suicide" when characterizing what Lubitz is thought to have done. There's more about our reasoning posted here.

Mark Memmott is NPR's standards and practices editor. He co-hosted The Two Way from its launch in May 2009 through April 2014.

Hear more conversations in this series: Word Matters.

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.