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To suicide is an intransitive verb meaning “to kill oneself”. I’ve seen it sometime used it transitevly meaning “made to commit suicide” as in the following examples:

From “The Enigma of Ralph A. Blakelock” by David Gebhard, Phyllis Stuurman, 1969

  • A collective American tragedy as well as an individual one, Blakelock in a sense was suicided by society.

From “Arts in Society” by University of Wisconsin Extension Division., 1971

  • Van Gogh was suicided by society. So, really, was Nijinsky. So was Artaud. They had awakened. (Blake survived pretty much as a bitter recluse.) These were the awakened ones amongst the sleeping millions. They had to be eliminated.

From “Eastern Europe ... Central Europe ... Europe” by Stephen Richards Graubard, 1991:

  • World War II foreign minister of Czechoslovakia, apparently became the very first victim of Communist murder squads when he was suicided in 1948.

Is the transitive usage of suicide grammatical and commonly acceptable? I couldn't find any dictionary to suggest such usage.

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    I think I would take issue with the first sentence. If suicide really is a verb it's a very awkward one. It's far better left as a noun.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 20, 2018 at 21:07
  • Technically, someone who deliberately causes someone to commit suicide is complicit and guilty of homicide (not suicide). Even when murders are staged to imitate suicides, they're still homicides.
    – Bread
    Jun 20, 2018 at 21:08
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    This is English, si è suicidato (he suicided himself) is fine in Italian but not in Engish. Those examples you cited are "wrong", I don't care who wrote them, and they are written in the passive voice. So it's not like someone saying "She suicided him". Now don't get all upset. Just accept the fact that I don't think this construction works at all.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jun 20, 2018 at 21:20
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    There are Lacanian analysts in the US, who use it transitively, to match the French (se suicider) because they don't like to "commit suicide" which sounds almost like a crime.
    – Lambie
    Jun 20, 2018 at 23:54
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    I feel like this question, as well as your previous question about "have went", is difficult to answer because different people interpret phrases like "common currency" and "commonly acceptable" in different ways. To me personally, even intransitive "suicide" seems barely acceptable, but it's true that it can be found in a dictionary.
    – herisson
    Jun 21, 2018 at 7:37

3 Answers 3

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I don't think the users of this site really have much ability to answer the question "Is the transitive usage of suicide grammatical and commonly acceptable?"

"X was suicided by Y" doesn't violate any general principle of syntax (it seems to behave the same syntactically as "X was murdered by Y"), so any relevant "grammar" considerations would have to be word-specific, and it's clear that different English speakers often have different intuitions about the grammaticality of specific usages of words. It seems unlikely that the authors of the quotes that you cite made an "error" according to their own systems of grammar (although I would imagine they were conscious of the unconventionality of this expression). So you already know that it is grammatical for them (or at least, that they find it acceptable to use in print in the context of those quotes). Are you just wondering if there are any speakers who would find it ungrammatical or unacceptable? The comments beneath your question suggest that there probably are.

Whether it's "commonly acceptable" is not really a matter of opinion, but it's likely to be treated as one, since it's hard to actually find the answer to this question. As the COCA query mentioned in Gnawme's answer indicates, it's not a common usage. It has been mentioned in the answers to two other questions about the verb suicide:

The passive-voice expression "be suicided" has been mentioned as a translation of the Chinese expression bèi zìshā 被自殺 in a Language Log post by Victor Mair: "Suicided: the adversative passive as a form of active resistance" (2010 March 24). You can see more discussion of similar expressions in the comments. Here is a brief selection of quotes that I found particularly relevant to your question:

  • Yeah, there's 'disappeared', and I've heard 'volunteered' used that way

    (nemryn, 2010 March 24)

  • In 1947, the French surrealist poet Artaud wrote "Van Gogh le suicidé de la société", a title which I gather is as odd in French as it is in English. It's usually translated as "Van Gogh: The Man Suicided by Society". He seems to have meant something like "driven to suicide by…". I've always been a bit surprised that the usage didn't catch on.

    (JKD, 2010 March 25)

  • The death of Czech FM Jan Masaryk in 1948, which the authorities called suicide–he had evidently squeezed his way out of a narrow window near the roof of a bathroom–was one of the examples that led to the phrase "he was suicided" being commonly used among those concerned in the Cold War period about the USSR, Eastern Europe. I cannot give chapter and verse but certainly in college days (forty years on) I was familiar with this usage from teachers and colleagues.

    (arthur waldron, 2010 March 25)

A note on the meaning of transitive "to suicide"

"Suicided" doesn't always mean "made to commit suicide". As shareeditflag's answer says, it can also be used to mean "murdered, but in a way that is officially treated as a suicide (or in a way that looks like suicide)". This seems to be the intended meaning in the Graubard quote (note the use of the phrase "victim of Communist murder squads"): the Wikipedia article on Jan Masaryk says, in the section "Death",

On 10 March 1948 Masaryk was found dead, dressed only in his pajamas, in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry (the Černín Palace in Prague) below his bathroom window. The initial investigation by the Ministry of the Interior stated that he had committed suicide by jumping out of the window, although for a long time it has been believed by some that he was murdered by the nascent Communist government. (Others in the country put it thus: "Jan Masaryk was a very tidy man. He was such a tidy man that when he jumped he shut the window after himself.") On the other hand, many of his close associates (e.g. his secretary Antonín Sum, or Viktor Fischl) have always defended the suicide story.

In a second investigation taken in 1968 during the Prague Spring, Masaryk's death was ruled an accident, not excluding a murder and a third investigation in the early 1990s after the Velvet Revolution concluded that it had been a murder.

Discussions about the mysterious circumstances of his death continued for some time. [...] Members of Masaryk's family—including his former wife, Frances Crane Leatherbee, a former in-law named Sylvia E. Crane, and his sister Alice Masaryková — stated their belief that he had indeed killed himself, according to a letter written by Sylvia E. Crane to The New York Times, and considered the possibility of murder a "cold war cliché". However, a Prague police report in 2004 concluded after forensic research that Masaryk had indeed been thrown out of the window to his death.

This meaning is also documented in Wiktionary, with supporting quotes:

Verb

suicide (third-person singular simple present suicides, present participle suiciding, simple past and past participle suicided)

[...]

  1. (transitive) To kill (someone) and make their death appear to have been a suicide rather than a homicide (now especially as part of a conspiracy).

    • 1898 October 29, in Punch, or the London charivari, page 196:

      Have bought The Shanghai Chopsticks. Proprietor at first refused to sell, but when I ordered the boiling oil he became more reasonable. Editor reports that circulation is not what it ought to be. […] Will publish proclaimation, "Any person found not in possession of The Shanghai Chopsticks (current number) will be suicided."

    • 2011, Tobias Jones, White DeathISBN, page 273:

      Even if he did get charged, he would be suicided long before he could involve one of the city's most important politicians in the scam.

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    thanks, though I think there is a substantial difference between "make a murder look like a suicide" and "drive someone to commit suicide" which is the connotation of the examples I used and which I am referring to. Btw, not my downvote, apparently there are users who find these questions irritating.
    – user 66974
    Jun 21, 2018 at 7:09
  • @user110518: As I said in my answer, I don't think your third quote (from Graubard, about the death of Jan Masaryk) is actually using "was suicided" to mean "was driven to commit suicide". Graubard seems to mean to imply that Masaryk was murdered. If you don't want to ask about that meaning, I would recommend removing that example from your question.
    – herisson
    Jun 21, 2018 at 7:17
  • Do you find Wiktionary to be a reliable source of definitions?
    – Mitch
    Jun 21, 2018 at 14:36
  • @Mitch: I mainly cited the Wiktionary entry for the quotations. I don't find it particularly unreliable. What exactly do you think it could have got wrong in this case?
    – herisson
    Jun 21, 2018 at 18:50
  • @sumelic In this particular instance, I think W got it wrong that there are transitive uses of suicide. I don't doubt that those quotes exist in the wild, but 1) I don't take the as actual understood uses as passives of the transitive (is that ... hortative...wait no, deponent , 'hortari' is deponent). I mean 'suiciding'? Come on. Someone is just making stuff up. Starting with saying it exists as a transitive.
    – Mitch
    Jun 21, 2018 at 19:34
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Merriam-Webster Unabridged lists both transitive and instransitive forms of the verb form of suicide (paywall, sorry):

intransitive verb : to commit suicide (the unfortunate man had suicided — D. D. Martin)

transitive verb : to put (as oneself) to death (after Brutus, aged twelve, had suicided himself — E. M. Forster)

As for frequency, the Corpus of Contemporary American English lists only 9 examples of the verb form, with the intransitive form being in the distinct minority.

However, none of the examples in the Corpus use suicided in the way shown in your examples, in the sense of some external entity being the agent of someone's suicide.

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  • +1 Very good. That's what I was about to do—look it up in a main dictionary. It's uncommon, but correct as per its definition. From the public online Oxford: ‘she suicided in a very ugly manner’. Jun 20, 2018 at 23:45
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    However, I should add that there's no evidence to support the specific use of the verb that's given in the question itself. (Where one person can suicide another.) In other words, it doesn't appear to be transitive at all. So, your answer really only addresses half of the issue (I was focused too much on the comments that said it shouldn't really be used as a verb at all) . . . I'm not sure why your pay M-W is using an intransitive example of its transitive definition. Yes, it's listed that way—but I'm now confused. Jun 20, 2018 at 23:51
  • She suicided in a very ugly manner is an active verb; so why can't it be used passively?
    – Lambie
    Jun 20, 2018 at 23:56
  • @JasonBassford: I would say the example given by MW is transitive, but reflexive. I agree that it's not the same as the examples in the original question.
    – herisson
    Jun 21, 2018 at 0:41
  • @JasonBassford, thanks, I expanded my answer to address that aspect of the OP's question.
    – Gnawme
    Jun 21, 2018 at 2:03
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Is the transitive usage of suicide grammatical and commonly acceptable?

No. No.

Grammar does not define suicide as transitive in the sense of "drive someone to commit suicide."

It is not acceptable in formal writing.

Literary license and translation errors are no respecters of grammar.

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  • "To commit suicide" is se suicider--a reflexive verb--in French. "Suicide" in English is almost always a noun, and almost never a verb.
    – tautophile
    Jun 21, 2018 at 6:33
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    @tautophile en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/suicide Scroll down to VERB and click open "More example sentences"
    – Kris
    Jun 21, 2018 at 7:15
  • @Kris could you add a comment about that ODO intransitive verb use of 'suicide' to your answer? It would help explain your position.
    – Mitch
    Jun 21, 2018 at 14:38
  • @Mitch That reference, sadly, does not answer the question exhaustively. Some could argue ODO is not the only dictionary around.
    – Kris
    Jun 22, 2018 at 5:43

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