So.. Why don’t they just call Manslaughter (2 pages back), Third-degree Murder? So it would make more sense for the layperson.. 3, 2, 1.. kinda like Defcon or something. Weird naming schemes for sure.
Great webcomic, btw!
Good question. It actually goes back to medieval English law.
“Man Slaughter” meant nothing more than the killing of another person. Any punishable killing would count as manslaughter.
But it was considered especially bad if that killing was done in cold blood. So there was a higher crime of “Murder” for a premeditated killing — one done with “previous malice.”
Only recently have different degrees of murder been introduced, to reflect finer degrees of culpability. There’s more on the evolution of the Mens Rea -O- Meter in the penultimate chapter of this subject.
The separate terms, by the way, predate even England. The Old English morðor (pronounced similarly to “murther” with the vocalized th you say in “the” — and not pronounced like the land of shadow between the Ered Lithui and Ephel Dúath) comes from the viking word morð. Both morð and morðor meant a killing that you did in secret, or killing someone in his sleep, which was an act considered especially heinous.
Merely slaying another man, however, was simply called “mann slaeht.” An old germanic word that the Saxons brought over when they kicked the Britons into Cornwall long before the vikings came.
You’ll notice that neither word has really changed much, except for the spelling, since perhaps the 1300s. The law is often like that.
I need to note that America, IIRC, is fairly unique in its line between ‘first-degree’ and ‘second-degree’ murder. Australia, at least, simply has murder and manslaughter.