Opinion: Why a coward punch isn't enough

Cheryl McGrath / January 30, 2014 03:02 PM

If you’ve been following the news over summer, you probably will have seen "king hit" crop up often in the headlines. But a media shift over the past few weeks could see this term become defunct. 

Teenager Daniel Christie’s death as a result of an unprovoked “one-punch” assault at King’s Cross on New Year’s Eve came at the end of a series of similar assaults, hitting the front page as a sign of the ongoing epidemic of alcohol-fuelled violence.

But when his family issued a statement to the media, they caused a bigger stir than they may have realised. “We don’t agree with the popular term king hit,” the statement read. “We have heard it referred to as a ‘coward punch’, which seems to be more appropriate.”

The response was quick and positive. Police minister Michael Gallacher agreed the term “coward punch” better captured the “gutless” nature of the act. Within a week, everything from newspaper headlines to social media pages sprang up to boycott “king hit” and use “coward punch” or “one punch” instead.   One Facebook page, called One Punch Campaign, had 10,545 likes at the time of writing.

The connotations of the two terms are pretty clear. A “king hit” suggests “there was some sort of fair fight and [it’s] something to be looked upon as a significant victory”.  Calling it a cowardly act "takes away the cool factor". There’s no pride in being called a coward, and so the term itself acts as a deterrent as well as a judgment call. This can only reinforce the antisocial nature of the act. As a result of this media push, a quick Google search of "coward punch" will now bring up dozens of headlines.

It wouldn't be the first time the media has shifted its speak to allow for social change. The term “global warming” is almost completely gone, thanks to George W. Bush’s choice of “climate change” as a more fitting title. Other examples include “asylum seekers” instead of illegal immigrants or boat people, or “LGBT community” to be more inclusive of non-heterosexuals. The amount of media accessed, thanks to the internet, makes this process even easier.

But some have said that the “coward punch” push is only a surface change, and they’re right to a point. People who act violently aren’t going to become saints just because the media calls them gutless. And clearly, while the media can help push a new way of talking about the issue, this isn’t going to solve the problem in the short-term.  

Even so, the change of language around the issue is a positive step, and hopefully one that can assist to change the culture around these assaults.


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