Concept of the Month -- May 2013

The Criminal's Idiosyncratic Use of Language

Criminals use everyday words to mean something very different from their customary usage. For example, a defendant will speak of his "paranoia." Paranoia actually refers to a person being suspicious without any basis in fact. When a criminal uses the word, this is not symptomatic of mental illness. He has committed illegal acts and, justifiably, knows that others are looking for him to hold him accountable. Thus his so-called "paranoia" is very understandable, not a sign of psychopathology.

Another example is the defendant who tells an interviewer, "You don't understand." The interviewer then questions himself thinking that perhaps he misunderstood what he was being told. The fact is that the criminal was perfectly clear, and the interviewer did comprehend what was being related. "You don't understand" is the criminal's complaining that the other person did not agree with him. The issue has nothing to do with understanding.

A criminal says he was "depressed." What he likely means is that things did not work out according to his unrealistic expectations or that he did not receive the acclimation he thought was his due. He is not depressed about himself but about the circumstances in which he finds himself because of his own irresponsibility.

The word "love" is glibly used by criminals. However, the criminal has no concept of a love relationship if this entails mutual caring, generosity, tenderness, and loyalty. The word "love," more often than not, refers to valuing a person at the moment for sex or for whatever other benefit he may derive.

Return to Dr. Samenow's Homepage