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Luke Somers, 33, an American photojournalist, was killed during a hostage resuce attempt in Yemen.

The Associated Press

The definition of "botch" is: to spoil by poor work; bungle.

Does that fit a story The Globe and Mail published online on a U.S. attempt to rescue an American hostage in Yemen and its headline, which says: "Two hostages killed in Yemen in botched rescue attempt, U.S. officials say"?

If you read the article, you see that it was expected to be and was a difficult operation. The article describes how, despite moving in under darkness with specialized equipment, the Yemeni counterterrorism troops and the SEAL Team 6 commandos knew that it was extraordinarily challenging.

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"Their effort faced steep odds. The compound was guarded by about half a dozen gunmen, already jittery about a possible repeat of the previous rescue attempt. And the approach to the compound was sufficiently difficult that the commandos had virtually no element of surprise, which they typically plan for and rely on," article says. By the time the commandos reached the building where the hostages were being held, the militants had fled and the hostages were gravely wounded.

So at this point do you think "botched" is fair? One reader wrote to me saying that "although it was indeed a failure as the two hostages did not survive, your adjective is unnecessarily pejorative. The captors were on the alert & the local landscape made surprise unlikely, so a successful conclusion was a remote outcome. I think that a calmer word such as 'unsuccessful' would have sufficed. What's the point of needlessly aggravating any American readers?"

I agree that "botched" was the wrong word, not only pejorative but also inaccurate. There is no indication in the article that the mission was "botched," i.e. spoiled by poor work or bungled. The mission failed, it was unsuccessful and either of those descriptors would have been both correct and preferable to "botched."

Headline writing is difficult and the editor must choose a small number of words to describe the main point, the main news, in the article. You cannot cover every point. Also, headline writers try to find short words that take fewer characters to make the same point. You may never call a young child a "tot," but that is an effective and short headline word. (Think Twitter but no spelling mistakes allowed in headlines.)

In this case, though, "failed" would have been accurate and also been one letter shorter.

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