It seems like this word exists, but maybe it's because I know it in another language (non-Romance) that I thinking it exists. I'm drawing a blank on it. I'd like to write a sentence that says "He listed the [causes of death]: ...."

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    what non-English word do you know? – Brad Jul 12 '13 at 18:50
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    It's 死因 (shiin) in Japanese (and possibly also in Chinese). – Jiken Jul 12 '13 at 19:07
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    I looked for the phrase "cause of death" in the OED, and it appears in the definitions of ten words. However none of those are a headword for which "cause of death" is the definition. It would appear that there isn't one. If there were, I would expect it to start mort- and it doesn't list anything relevant. – Andrew Leach Jul 12 '13 at 19:17
  • Thank you! I guess I wasn't blanking on the word. It just doesn't (commonly) exist. Still, I have that vague feeling of dissatisfaction knowing that a word should exist, but doesn't. – Jiken Jul 12 '13 at 19:22
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    If no one comes up with an existing term, I suggest the neologism mortifactor. – bib Jul 13 '13 at 0:01

Yes: killer.¹ For example, the following two sentences are nearly synonymous:

Heart disease is the biggest killer in the United States.
Heart disease is the biggest cause of death in the United States.

As with all synonymous terms, there are subtle differences of tone. Cause of death is more neutral or formal. Killer has a more forceful impact, as it is also used in contexts where it suggests murderer.²


Killer is a good word, as another answerer has suggested. If you like quaint Saxon words, as I do, then there is also the word bane. (However, you can get away with writing words like that only if your English is very fluent. The word bane probably has no place in journeyman-level international English, where killer is the better word. If a Japanese wrote bane to me, I should immediately wonder if he had not mistyped some other word. To gauge the matter, consider the unlikelihood that the word bane would occur in any English-language life-insurance policy of the 20th or 21st century, but rather killer or, regrettably more likely, cause of death.)

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    It's a shame how languages decay, really. Endings are worn off words such that extra words become necessary to say the same thing with less precision (compare Spanish to classical Latin). Deep, one-syllable words like bane disappear but from poetry. It is unfortunate. – thb Jul 13 '13 at 2:44
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    I should hasten to add, however, that the word bane, though quaint and grown rare, is still current and can still be used with care. – thb Jul 13 '13 at 2:48
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    Bane is a lovely word from a whole family of related lovely words: including autobahn, gonfalon, bezoar, antimony. – MetaEd Jul 13 '13 at 2:59
  • Ha! Thanks to @MετάEd for that comment—I never knew ‘bezoar’ was basically the ‘killing father’, so to speak. Most interesting! ‘Antimony’, though? – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 15 '13 at 2:34
  • @JanusBahsJacquet "Monk's bane". Just wondered if anybody was paying attention. :D – MetaEd Aug 21 '13 at 12:26

C.O.D. Not a word but a common abbreviation.

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    Mostly American crime dramas. I've heard it in numerous television series in the USA. – KI4JGT Jul 13 '13 at 3:55
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    I think I've only ever heard this as an acronym for Call of Duty, so...use with caution. – Kyle Strand Jul 13 '13 at 6:34
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    This is a very common shipping abbreviation for "cash on delivery". – MetaEd Jul 13 '13 at 13:21

Mortefacient would be a technically appropriate neologism

-facient from L. facere, to cause


Both lethal and mortal are applicable in the context you are proposing?

  • He listed the following lethal/mortal factors/agents.

If you are pedantic about a single word then there's none better than the neologism I proposed earlier.

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