I have notice they use the term "critical fail" to refer to a failure on quality testing at my job. I have a hunch originates from Dungeons and Dragons, but my girlfriend has pointed out that it is used in aviation as well. Does anyone know when and where the term was first coined?

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    It's just plain old engineer-speak. Likely first used in aviation, but I doubt that you can nail it down to any degree.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 2:31
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    "Critical fail" or "critical failure"? Also, how is it being used?
    – The Nate
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 7:31
  • It is specifically "critical fail", agents who score below a certain percentage are said to have a critical fail. Certain actions, will result in an automatic critical fail. Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 11:14
  • I don't know about critical fail. Critical failure is used not only in aviation, but in many branches of engineering. A good definition is "Failure of an equipment unit that causes an immediate cessation of the ability to perform a required function." iadclexicon.org/critical-failure Commented Sep 8, 2016 at 7:01

1 Answer 1


I expect this term originated in stress-strain experiments, beginning with Hook's Law. A deformation in an object can be restored if the force is removed, a point past the limit of deformation is the beginning of failure, and critical failure is the point at which it breaks. In other words the point of no return.

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    Why do you expect this? Can you elaborate a bit more?
    – DyingIsFun
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 2:41
  • But when the stress-strain experiment is run there is no surprise when the specimen "fails". It's not a failure in the testing sense. Using "critical fail" in that situation is an oxymoron.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 2:44
  • Surprise isn't the point. A factor of safety, say 2, was often referenced to the critical failure stress (in this old usage). So it was important. The term made the jump to aeronautics at an early stage. Pretty soon, there was critical everything. Managers couldn't speak a sentence without saying critical. I found a 1908 document on sewer pipe showing it was established in product testing.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Aug 9, 2016 at 4:59

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