English Language Blog

The Vocabulary of Mysteries Posted by on Apr 29, 2021 in Culture, English Vocabulary

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

There is nothing quite so satisfying as a good mystery. Peel back all the layers of the story, from the crime to the suspects, to the motive, to the various clues, and you have the answers that you’ve been seeking since page one. Add to this the fascinating characters who solve the crimes, whether they are detectives, police, journalists, or nosy little old ladies. My library is filled with mysteries.

And, although they are written all over the world, the modern mystery story began with English language authors Edgar Allan Poe and, of course, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Later, in America, we had books and stories from Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Earl Stanley Gardner, to name just a few. In England, the mystery was perfected by Agatha Christie, who was the subject of this earlier blog post.

If you love mysteries, you probably have a few favorite authors and characters. But, are you familiar with the unique vocabulary of the English language mystery? Can you speak like a detective? Let’s examine the words most commonly found in mysteries and their definitions.

  • Alibi – The information given to show that someone was not present when a crime was committed
  • Booked – Taking an official record of someone’s name and personal information, usually for the purpose of arrest
  • Clue – A piece of evidence or information that’s helpful in a criminal investigation
  • Coroner – The professional who conducts an autopsy or medical examination, of a dead victim
  • Deduction – A process of reasoning based on known, related facts, leading to a reasoned conclusion
  • Detective – A person, either professional or amateur, who gathers information in order to solve a crime
  • Evidence – Facts, physical proof, or information that can be used to solve a crime
  • Felony – A crime that typically involves violence
  • Homicide – Murder, or the branch of policing which investigates a murder
  • Intelligence – Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting all the information in an investigation
  • Inspector – A police officer ranking below a superintendent or police chief
  • Interrogate – To ask questions of someone in an investigation
  • Investigation – A thorough search for facts, especially those that are hidden or need to be sorted out
  • Motive – The reason behind a crime
  • Perpetrator – The person who committed a crime, sometimes shortened to perp
  • Sleuth – A synonym for a detective, or someone who studies clues to solve a crime
  • Suspect – The person who might have committed a crime under investigation
  • Testimony – Legal evidence given by a reliable witness under oath
  • Undercover – The act of disguising one’s identity in order to collect evidence or information in an investigation
  • Victim – The person who has been harmed, injured, or killed as the result of a crime or accident
  • Warrant – A document issued by an official authorizing an arrest or the search of someone’s premises
  • Witness – Someone who saw something related to a crime

Who is your favorite mystery writer and/or character? Here’s mine.

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About the Author: Gary Locke

Gary is a semi-professional hyphenate.