Before execution settled into its modern meanings of "running a piece of software" and "state-organised killing", it was a much more general term for acting and doing. In this now outdated context, one could "do an execution on" something or someone, meaning roughly the same as "fix it", "do a number on it" or "lick it into shape".

I'm just not sure that doing is the right verb. Does one "do an execution" on something, "work an execution" on something, "wreak an execution" on something, or should it be some other verb I haven't thought of?

  • 1
    It should probably be execute. Wills are still executed by executors.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 22:44
  • 1
    I'm having trouble understanding what you mean. I don't recall ever encountering "execute" in the sense of "beat something into shape".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 22:47
  • Other than murder, to execute is to perform a function. You can execute a ballet step, a somersault, @AndrewLeach's will, or a computer program's compiled code. If you run a program, you are executing its machine code. Commented May 29, 2017 at 22:51
  • 'Carry out' (more conversational than 'perform' and less highfalutin' than 'execute') works in most cases. 'Do an execution of one's work' is unacceptable if not strictly ungrammatical. Commented May 29, 2017 at 22:54
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    Several early examples of this meaning in the OED are in the form put in(to) execution. Is that what you had in mind?
    – 1006a
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 23:12

2 Answers 2


I have never encountered countable execution (that is, executions or an execution) except in the sense of an instance of executing the order of a court of law (including an execution of the death penalty); and the only other uses reported by OED 1 are of a sense obsolete since the early 18th century: “a performance” of an operation, work or piece of music.

1628 Look to your actions, to your doings, to your executions and performances.

OED gives no citation of this with executions or an execution as object of a verb.

What you do still encounter from time to time is do execution, used originally of military actions with the sense "inflict destructive effect"

...an adder, when she doth unroll
To do some fatal execution —Shakespeare, TitA

This has been later extended in a figurative (and I think largely jocular) sense to “the effect of arguments, personal charms, etc.”

Black eyes, which might have done some execution had they been placed in a smoother face. —Thackeray

One might, I suppose, speak of “an” execution, in the sense of a performer’s manner or excellence of performance on some particular occasion—

Sartorius gave us the A-minor with a polish and an execution far above his usual mediocrity of expression.

but that sort of execution is not done or performed, it is a quality of the performance.

  • Funny thing Stoney; I wonder if I'm missing something here or on a different planet. My kid is a top dancer. It's totally commonplace that I say to her or I hear: "That was a fantastic execution". Regarding the plural, I couldn't put my hand on my heart and say "I said this recently", but it would seem utterly, totally, commonplace and unremarkable to hear "look at those executions" or "all the executions were perfect" or "on Saturday your costume sucked and three of your executions sucked as well". Maybe the examples I just gave in this comment, are not what you're talking about??
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 16:07
  • Note that for example the first quoted sentence (apparently from 1628??) seems utterly normal, everyday, and contemporary to me. "Nice executions last night".
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 16:07
  • @Fattie - I'd say that the uses you find natural have the sense in my last three paragraphs: the quality or technical competence of the performance rather than the event or fact of performing, which appears to be what OP has in mind. Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 16:30
  • Hmm. In my sentence "That was a fantastic execution" I am using "execution" as a straight out simile for the nouns dance, performance, night, show, step, sequence. I think I'm not smart enough for this QA :)
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 16:51

"execute" is a perfectly good verb. Why not use it rather than agonize over somehow using its nominal form with some other verb?

  • @Fattie Good point, one with which I basically agree. I will delete my comment.
    – Xanne
    Commented May 30, 2017 at 1:36
  • Of course I know it's a perfectly good verb. I was merely satisfying my curiosity about the much rarer, obsolete usage in which its nominal form was used with another verb. Commented Jun 25, 2017 at 4:02

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