After the third or fourth European or American journalist or missionary has been slaughtered by ISIS or ISIL through cutting off the person’s head, I realize that “beheading” is truly the wrong word to be used by news organizations who report these atrocities.
What these barbaric zealots do is to murder hapless non-zealots who fall prey to them by cutting off their heads. The most direct word for that is “decapitation.” That is a hard word, with no soft edges. De Cap I Tation. Taking off the head. Can you imagine doing that? There is lots of blood spurting skyward, really messy. Hard to do since you have to cut through the vertebrae. Even decapitating the fish before you sauté it is difficult for many to do. Decapitate a living person? Is the decapitator really a sentient human being?
By contrast, at least for me, “beheading” comes trippingly off the tongue. I was beguiled by the person, perhaps even bewitched by her charm. I bemoaned the loss of friendship. All these be- forms. Soft, unctuous. Then beheading is a soft follow-on. But it is not. It is ugly, inhuman, unyielding, harsh, and despicable. Call it for what it is: decapitation in all its ugliness.