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jn1057
1244506.  Fri Aug 04, 2017 10:12 am Reply with quote

Benjamin Franklin tried to kill a Christmas turkey using electricity in 1750 - he electrocuted himself.

vs

https://www.reference.com/history/did-benjamin-franklin-die-f1e3f1d366dc908a


Q:
How did Benjamin Franklin die?
A:
Quick Answer

Benjamin Franklin died of pleurisy on April 17, 1790, in Philadelphia, Penn. The condition is caused by the swelling of the lung and chest linings. It is a complication of bacterial infections, such as pneumonia.

Has QI misused the word "electrocuted"?

etymology suggests the word means death by electricity.

 
Alfred E Neuman
1244507.  Fri Aug 04, 2017 10:25 am Reply with quote

I might be wrong, but I don't believe that death is necessary for it to be called electrocuted.

 
dr.bob
1244508.  Fri Aug 04, 2017 10:32 am Reply with quote

Yeah, the OED defines "electrocute" as:

"Injure or kill (someone) by electric shock."

So death is not compulsory.

 
suze
1244511.  Fri Aug 04, 2017 11:19 am Reply with quote

You'll be aware of that thing where you say "This word can mean this thing", and I say "I've never heard it used with that meaning, so it clearly can't". Well, that.

The word electrocute is a portmanteau of electricity and execute, and was devised by an unknown American journalist at about the time that the electric chair was introduced. Edison thought it an ugly word and preferred dynamort, while the New York Times agreed with Edison and thought it a word that only "pretentious ignoramuses" would use. (This has not stopped the NYT using the word since.)

While QI and dr.bob have Collins and the OED on their side, jn1057 and I have Chambers and Webster on ours. Not proven.

 
Alfred E Neuman
1244559.  Fri Aug 04, 2017 4:09 pm Reply with quote

If you're insisting on electricity and execute as th definition of electrocute, then at least complain about the use of the word accidental, because accidental and execute are mutually exclusive. If you're going to concede the first drift in meaning to include deaths other than the executions, then it seems a little churlish to demand that the drift in meaning stopped there.

 
jn1057
1244572.  Fri Aug 04, 2017 5:29 pm Reply with quote

Erm, please forgive me Alfred East Newman, having just proformed a word search on this page I find only two occurrences of the word, "accidental", and both of those were in your post immediately before this post.

 
jn1057
1244573.  Fri Aug 04, 2017 5:30 pm Reply with quote

*E not East

 
Alfred E Neuman
1244589.  Sat Aug 05, 2017 2:16 am Reply with quote

Sorry about that, I should have re-read the original post before the second reply. Even though the word accidental isn't in your original quote, it is implied very strongly (unless you feel that shocking himself was part of the turkey culling plan).

The point I was trying to make is that the meaning of the word has shifted in usage, once to include deaths which were not executions, and once more to include injury.

Further, if you're going to deny the existence of one shift, you should deny the existence of both of them, and stick to the original meaning of death by electrical execution. If you accept that the word can shift in meaning once, as long as that was far enough in the past, but won't accept the more recent shift, then how do you pick the exact date that the English language achieved perfection and ceased to evolve? I suspect for most people, that date would be around the time they were born, or perhaps when they were schooled.

 
suze
1244590.  Sat Aug 05, 2017 2:19 am Reply with quote

Alfred E Neuman wrote:
If you're insisting on electricity and execute as th definition of electrocute, then at least complain about the use of the word accidental, because accidental and execute are mutually exclusive.


You make a fair point here. We do tend to refer to any kind of death by electricity as an electrocution, even though - with the electric chair having been de facto retired - all of them are (should be) by now accidents.

But I continue to assert that I've never heard electrocute used to refer to a non-fatal encounter with electricity. Electricians have more of those than most of us, and they often refer to getting an electric shock as being "lifted". Doing so in a fatal manner is fortunately relatively rare, but it's "fried".

 
'yorz
1244608.  Sat Aug 05, 2017 5:06 am Reply with quote

In Dutch, non-lethal electrocuting is called electriseren, which in English would be electrisation.
According to this Collings entry, the word ceased to be used by the 1930s.

 
crissdee
1244622.  Sat Aug 05, 2017 7:37 am Reply with quote

Most people I have heard talking about such things call accidental contact with electricity a "belt", i.e "I just got a belt off that wire."

 
PDR
1244626.  Sat Aug 05, 2017 8:32 am Reply with quote

I would be in the "electrocution must be lethal" camp; I've never heard it used to describe a non-lethal shock and would probably correct someone who did. IMHO that's not language "development"; it's just the sort of language misuse which people should be sent to the electric chair for...

PDR

 
Alfred E Neuman
1244631.  Sat Aug 05, 2017 9:57 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
But I continue to assert that I've never heard electrocute used to refer to a non-fatal encounter with electricity. Electricians have more of those than most of us, and they often refer to getting an electric shock as being "lifted". Doing so in a fatal manner is fortunately relatively rare, but it's "fried".


Again, you're being inconsistent. You can't argue that because electricians don't use electrocute for no lethal shocks as significant when they don't use it for lethal shocks either, having slang words for both. Besides, the existence of a word (slang or not) does not reserve a definition and preclude other words from sharing the meaning. If it did, you'd battle to put together a thesaurus.

I was genuinely surprised when I googled and saw that some dictionaries insisted on death in an electrocution. I've happily been using it to mean a shock for as long as I can remember, and no-one has seen fit to correct me.

 
jn1057
1244633.  Sat Aug 05, 2017 10:51 am Reply with quote

Yes, i do accept that words and their formal and colloquial definitions (and spellings) can and do change and evolve over time. At one point, "bad" had a subculture use meaning "good". "Concrete" is often used to describe something as being strong, reliable, unmovable, study when actually as a raw material, concrete has none of these properties! Concrete only acquires some of those abilities when used with plasticisers, re-bar and other engineering processes.

My original question about electrocution was always going to be provocative. Yes i know that plenty of people have and do use it to refer to an electric shock which is non lethal. My enquiry has now evolved to become, should we all accept how words can have such "mission-creap"?

 
Alfred E Neuman
1244636.  Sat Aug 05, 2017 11:06 am Reply with quote

jn1057 wrote:
My enquiry has now evolved to become, should we all accept how words can have such "mission-creap"?


You already accepted it when you accepted electrocution's definition as death by electricity.

 

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