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Is it correct to say I electrocuted my friend if he was only injured by electricity?

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Actually, the only part of that phrase I'd have a problem with is "friend"... <g> –  MT_Head Jul 8 '12 at 19:44
@MT_Head What does "<g>" mean? –  Joe Z. Feb 21 '13 at 16:03
@JoeZeng - I believe it's short for "grin"; in any case it's an emoticon to indicate that what I've just typed is a joke. –  MT_Head Feb 21 '13 at 18:48
Well, I learned something new. –  Joe Z. Feb 21 '13 at 18:55

8 Answers 8

You will sometimes see people use it incorrectly when they actually mean shock or, in other words, when someone or something receives an electrical current.

Electrocution actually derives from electricity + execute: “to put to death by means of electricity”. So the correct usage means that someone or something has been killed via powerful electrical current.

Also I may mention that an electrocution also implies the intent of death. So you may electrocute your friend if the intended outcome is their demise, though they may live through it.

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The two dictionaries I consulted agree with you. From American Heritage, 4th ed.:"electrocute 1.To kill with electricity: a worker who was electrocuted by a high-tension wire 2. To execute (a condemned prisoner) by means of electricity." And from Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 30th ed.: electrocution: the taking of life by passage of electric current through the body" –  JLG Jul 8 '12 at 20:46
@JLG: I think there might be differences in usage between AmE and BrE due to the fact that in US death penalty is still frequently applied by electrocute. This method is completely unknown for Brits. However, even the NOAD has a 'special usage' in the sense you are recalled. –  user19148 Jul 8 '12 at 21:55
@Carlo_R, Interesting point, though it is NOT true that the death penalty "is still frequently applied" by electrocution in the U.S. Electrocution is no longer used in the U.S., except if an inmate in certain states chooses it: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_chair –  JLG Jul 8 '12 at 22:12
"Electrocution actually derives from Electricity + Execute or, to put to death by means of electricity. So, the correct usage means that someone or something has been killed via powerful electrical current." The conclusion may be correct, but the argument is 100% bogus. The derivation of a word tells us nothing whatsoever about its correct usage. This is the etymological fallacy. –  David Schwartz Jul 12 '12 at 5:10

Oxford Dictionary of English says:

electrocute: injure or kill (someone) by electric shock.

So, yes, if someone is electrocuted, they can just be injured.

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Is that like the People's Front of Judea? –  Mitch Jul 8 '12 at 19:24
People's Front of Judea? Splitters! –  MετάEd Jul 8 '12 at 19:53

While the term electrocute was originally coined in 1889¹ to mean execution by electric shock, its meaning has evolved over time: first to also include accidental death by electric shock and later to include electrical injury,² generally serious in nature. So your use of the word does not fit the 19ᵗʰ century coined meaning, but is perfectly in line with the broader meaning of the word as it is understood today.

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It depends on the degree of precision that’s appropriate for the register you are talking or speaking in.

In more formal use, electrocute would only refer to execution with electricity.

In less formal use, it could refer both to an accidental killing, and a mere injury.

This sense is later, came into the language by extension in colloquial use, and – pertinent to your question – is considered incorrect by some and is at odds with its etymology. It’s this last that makes it better avoided when a formal register or precise use is intended; in day-to-day use it won’t matter that some people might argue pedantically against it, but other times you want to be free from even the worse stickler’s arguments.

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If we allow electrocution survivors, next stop is non-lethal executions, immobile automobiles, inaudible telephones and invisible televisions. No sorry the slippery-pope fallacy doesn't apply.. –  geotheory Dec 22 '14 at 13:30

Unless the injury is life-threatening or at least very severe, I would recommend “I shocked him”, maybe adding “with electricity” if it’s not clear enough from the context.

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You could try saying, “I electrified my friend!”

Not precisely what you’re looking for, but at least we’ll know you made a big impression on your friend!

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Comparing with other words, drowning is necessarily a form of death but shooting is primarily a source of injury. How do we want to view electrocution? It’s all in the mind, I suppose.

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The difference lies in the root of the word - 'cution' refers to a method of death. –  geotheory Dec 22 '14 at 13:15

My husband is an electrician. He reports that in the industry, electrocute is always used to mean death by electricity. They say electrified or (colloquially) lifted to mean receiving an electric shock that is not fatal.

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protected by RegDwigнt Jul 12 '12 at 22:46

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