Online Etymology Dictionary puts the origin as such:

"deliberate killing of oneself," 1650s, from Modern Latin suicidium

Wiktiobary here puts:

Suicide, 1651, New Latin coinage (probably originating in English) suīcīdium, from Latin suī (from suus (“one’s own”)) + -cīdium (“killing”). Compare self-slaughter, self-blood. Equivalent to -cide.

It quite stupified me to realize that from all the -cide words, quite a few originating from the later 16th century or early 17th century, the most famous of them all, at least in our collective modern vocabulary, "suicide", did not exist until the 1650s, and I cannot seem to find an older word which would have been used prior to "suicide's" coinage.

I am currently writing a period-piece set in the 1620s, and am looking for a word that existed during this period or prior, that would have been used in the self-same meaning as "suicide".

Shakespeare does use "self-kill" in Sonnet 71, which if all goes to the dogs, might be adequate, and I did find "felo-de-se", which is old enough, but I would rather not use Latin.

Edit: I found this on here

Evidence recounted here suggests that suicide was devised by Sir Thomas Browne and first published in his book Religio Medici in 1643.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  • I suspect that the term suicide was probably used before 1650.
    – user 66974
    Jan 20, 2021 at 21:27
  • Suicide derives from the post-classical Latin suicidium which the OED traces to the 12th century (saying Browne "devised" it is going a bit far even if he converted it to English). The Latin word would be used in late medieval/early modern Latin texts, but it's possible it would be used in English texts as many other Latin terms are. I've no evidence though.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 21, 2021 at 10:56

3 Answers 3


There are several words (or phrases) that would have been used around that time:

  • self-murder (examples: 1624, 1700)
  • self-homicide (examples: 1616, 1644)
  • self-killing (example: 1637)
  • killing oneself (example: 1572)
  • murdering oneself (example: 1638)
  • Self-homicide is certainly an intriguing one. Thank you for these Jan 20, 2021 at 22:05

In Middle English (the period preceding Early Modern English), there were several words that could be used to refer to suicide. Most frequently they were compound words or adaptations of words for murder:

Early Modern English speakers could use self- to create references to suicide. In addition to Laurel's examples, you have attested examples of:


I can't speak to the era of its use, but this book refers to "autothenasia" (which has no definition in the dictionary). Etymologically broken down basically means euthanizing yourself.

Anton J. L. Van Hooff, From autothanasia to suicide: Self-killing in classical antiquity (Routledge, 2002)

  • 1
    "autothanasia" isn't in the OED and appears to be a coinage of the author (certainly most search results are to his book). Sadly I can't read the book to find more info.
    – Stuart F
    Jan 21, 2021 at 10:54

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.