Prisoners interred in Russia


Back in 2007, I wrote about the confusion of the words inter and intern, in the context of going to a funeral. This week, the confusion has surfaced again, but this time the other way round. In her BBC series on the Romanovs, Lucy Worsley has reached the end of her story, and told of Tsar Alexander III “interring” 68 prisoners in Shlisselburg. I’m not sure how many of them either escaped or were released, but it seems quite likely that at least some of them really were interred there. I also wonder if “intern” was the correct word in any case. Chambers defines the verb to mean “imprison, detain, as a precautionary measure”, without a trial, but because the detainee is thought likely to offend in the future. Did Alexander’s victims go through any form of legal process before their incarceration? If so, they were imprisoned, not interned. Or perhaps Dr Worsley intended to say “interred” all along, because they were never seen again?

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