I've been thinking about the verb 'to kill'. There are many figurative extensions ('kill a ball' (stop it); 'kill time'; 'my feet are killing me').

What happens in times of war, for example, when the core meaning of the lexeme ('to put to death') will be used more frequently?

Would you expect the figurative usages of this lexeme to decrease or remain?

  • 1
    The history of human civilization is a history of war. These terms have existed throughout many overt and covert wars and are still used. My country (the US) is fighting wars on several fronts right now, as you’re reading this comment. The terms are actively used here. That you know of them already gives you your answer.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 28, 2018 at 4:45
  • What has that to do with kill in special? It applies as much to any word in and out of "seasonal" popularity of either the literal or the figurative.
    – Kris
    Jun 28, 2018 at 7:31
  • I’ve provided an answer below but it might be that this question is too big or relies too much on data science and interpretation of statistics for this particular site.
    – Pam
    Jun 28, 2018 at 17:45

2 Answers 2


Google ngrams might help you investigate this further. The dates of the two World Wars would give you a frame of reference. Although war is almost continuous around the world, the physical presence of war (ie occupation, fighting on the beaches, rationing, nightly bombing, basically death or hardship in the local vicinity due to war) is relatively rare in English speaking (or rather, publishing) countries in modern times. You might be able to find other languages for which this is more definitely the case, but that would be off topic here.

A quick search for "kill the light" shows no significant trend (slightly upwards) from 1912-1920 but a reasonable peak in usage 1920-1926. Similarly, 1937-1943 shows near constant usage but an upwards trend from 1943 on to 1948.

From this small example, we can see that the world wars didn’t decrease the usage of "kill the light" in English publications. It’s a fairly big topic, though and you’d need more examples than this to draw a definitive conclusion.

  • Yes, great thinking - thanks for that, Pam! I guess they'll be a time-lag on the effect of war on the lexicon!
    – Callow
    Jun 28, 2018 at 16:58
  • And why did my question get downvotes? Was it poorly phrased/through out?
    – Callow
    Jun 28, 2018 at 17:35
  • I put in the time lag so I could see trends, but there would also be a lag on writing/publishing. It’s not proof so much as a worthwhile direction. Your question doesn’t have a quick answer. I don’t know why it’s downvoted, but 1 down vote out of 35 views isn’t a bad track record. If your question was OT or otherwise "bad" you’d know sooner rather than later (and it’d get flagged for close)!
    – Pam
    Jun 28, 2018 at 17:40

From a U.S. perspective, no.

'Kill the lights', and 'kill the power' are so far removed from the act of terminating lie that there is little danger of change.

  • Point taken. But what about if a human or body part is the semantic patient? i.e., 'you're killing me' (with jokes), 'go out and kill them!' (football); 'my feet are killing me'?
    – Callow
    Jun 28, 2018 at 5:01
  • You asked 'would this use influence other use.' Even in Germany, there have been very few children named Adolph since WWII. depends on how much the vernacular usage reflects a darker meaning.
    – eSurfsnake
    Jun 28, 2018 at 5:08

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