English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

"Mercy killing" is an act of killing someone who is already dying and in terrible pain, in order to reduce his or her suffering.

Is there any single word for "mercy killing"?

share|improve this question
Euthanasia? – StuartLC Jul 6 '14 at 12:52
Sometimes (in the context of gangsters, less-than-disciplined soldiers, etc.) you might dispatch a terminally-injured person as an act of mercy. – FumbleFingers Jul 6 '14 at 12:57
That sounds like gangster slang. Let's send him to the farm, or give him a ticket to heaven. – Centaurus Jul 6 '14 at 13:16
You could have used online resources to find out a synonym for mercy killing. – vickyace Jul 6 '14 at 17:14
It's worth pointing out that this is never done with humans (the wording 'someone' implies that you're asking about people), or at least not legally. We might let someone die (ie not attempt to rescuscitate them) if we think that it's impossible to save them, but we don't "put them out of their misery" like a baby bird that's fallen out of a nest and smashed its wings. Euthanasia with humans is subtly different to what the OP's asking, I think, since it tends to be voluntary, or perhaps done via power of attorney, eg with consent of the patient's children, if it is allowed at all. – Max Williams Jul 4 at 9:11
up vote 10 down vote accepted

StuartLC beat me to it. :(

The word for mercy killing is euthanasia.


The veterinary team could not heal the dog; it had to be euthanized.

Many religious people take issue with euthanasia as being no different than any other form of murder.

share|improve this answer
Pronounced exactly like youth in Asia. The eu- prefix means 'good'; you see it in Eumenides, euphemism, and euphonious. The thana- part means 'death'. Since it's Greek, it falutes very high. – John Lawler Jul 6 '14 at 14:03
@JohnLawler Spreading the good news around a bit, there’s also evangelize, which got caught up in the u>v mania. I think people may have missed part of your point: that euthanize and mercy killing aren’t in the same register. – tchrist Jul 6 '14 at 14:26
@tchrist: Right. There are issues of social relations -- and in this case political and moral relations -- involved here that go far beyond grammar. Basically, it's a matter of who controls the vocabulary, and that's the one that eventually falutes the highest. – John Lawler Jul 6 '14 at 14:30

In addition to the already mentioned euthanasia another phrase (not a single word) that is used, most often in the context of war, is Coup de grâce from the French "blow of mercy".

share|improve this answer
I doubt whether that word is used anymore: I suspect that the act (of administering a "coup de grâce") is illegal nowadays, and so people don't talk about it using that word. – ChrisW Jul 6 '14 at 16:33
Most people use "coup de grâce" in the second sense here, in my experience.... – Shokhet Jul 6 '14 at 17:38
@ChrisW, You may be right. I remember reading books with the phrase and having to look it up (in a paper dictionary since this was quite a while back). I've never heard it used in conversation but that could just be because I don't live in an English speaking country. – Motti Jul 7 '14 at 7:25
The "coup de grace" is more commonly used in the context of "making sure my opponent is actually dead so they're not going to wake up and shoot me", rather than a mercy killing. – Max Williams Jul 4 at 9:12

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.