Thursday, May 19, 2011
The Semiotics Of "Juvenile Delinquent" Vs. "Youthful Offender"
The latest legal moniker for bad kids is "youthful offender". It isn't very Latinate and it doesn't have the musty bureaucratic quality of the older term. It doesn't evoke police stations with file cabinets against the walls and typewriters on the desks, judges sentencing you to the "reformatory", and grimly hysterical mothers in flounced dresses weeping themselves silly. The "youthful" part of it makes the term sound almost hopeful, as if the "offender" deserves to be treated lightly and given another chance. As such, it conjures up, if not police precincts and the courts, the Politically Correct dictatorship of a college campus, in which everything that is said, about anyone, must be neutral and respectful and only blandly descriptive. "Youthful offender" is actually an even purer, fakier euphemism - surely one that can never face up to the reality of fourteen year old sociopaths with souls as old as evil itself. The only good thing about it is that it sounds so lightweight and stupid that no self-respecting "bad kid" would want to claim the title. It almost sounds like something your mother would say. That is, if she were some middle class Pollyanna who smelled nice and belonged to a book club. Nowadays, about the only time you hear even a faint echo of the older term is when Chris Meloni refers to "juvie" in Law And Order: Special Victims - and I'll bet there are more than a few kids who, with puzzled looks on their faces, ask their parents WTF that means.
Juvenile delinquency (Wikipedia)
Juvenile delinquent (Definition)
Youthful offenders (Definition)