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According with the book Speaking of Crime: The Language of Criminal Justice by Lawrence M. Solan and Peter M. Tiersma, what is the difference between making a prediction and making a threat? 



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The answer to this question can be found in chapter 10 of Speaking of Crime. There, the authors note that threats and predictions have some things in common linguistically, in that they "concern events or states of affairs that are likely to happen in the future." A threat, though, is different than a prediction about the future. When one predicts something, they are simply saying that something will likely happen in the future. But when one makes a threat, the authors point out, they "express ... intention to bring about or cause the state of affairs to happen."

There are many clear-cut examples of this, but the authors are primarily interested in showing the kinds of ambiguous examples that are often confronted by courts. They cite, for example, the case of a man who wrote to President Ronald Reagan that he would get his "brains blown out" if he was reelected as President. This was not, the courts ruled, a simple prediction, because the writer intended to bring about the future act he alluded to. Another example differentiating between the two was a case where an environmentalist magazine stated (albeit rather vaguely) that if a wine grower did not remove some of their vineyards, which threatened some old oak trees, then "some brave midnight warriors [would] have to do it themselves." Because the magazine's editors clearly disapproved of the damage the vineyards caused the environment, and because they said someone would "have to" take care of it, the courts ruled this statement a threat. Essentially, the magazine was threatening the vineyard operators with action by some of its readers if they persisted in their actions. This was not casually predicting, or hypothesizing about the future.

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