Why is an arrow always called poisonous in different types of media (games, movies, etc.) when by definition that would not be true.

Venom is delivered by a sting, bite, etc. and is injected into the target while poison needs to be absorbed or ingested for it to take effect. See this nice article from the Australian Academy of Science.

Following that logic, an arrow would be considered venomous as it needs to pierce the target in order to deliver the toxin. It does absolutely nothing if you simply touch it.

  • Because an arrow is not an animal…is the main reason, I suppose. Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 7:52
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    This probably hangs on the interpretation of "injected". Does an arrow inject the toxin or just carry it in? Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 7:52
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    Your article (and definitions) say that a venom is "actively injected via a bite or sting." No arrows. You can inject a poison directly into a person with a needle. That doesn't make it a venom. The definition involves the usual means of production and delivery.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 8:50
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    You need to distinguish specialised biological terminology from terms used in common speech, where language is often less precise. "Poison" is often used generally for any toxic substance. You're looking for language to be utterly consistent and logical, when it isn't. "Poison arrow" is the usual term in English.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 9:42
  • @StuartF but that could be said about proper grammar as well, yet we still try to follow it in speech and writing. But I get your point. It has probably been coined in times when knowledge of biology was rather scarce and it stuck.
    – CodeJunkie
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 10:22

1 Answer 1


Cambridge explains that

A venomous snake, insect, etc., produces venom (= a poisonous liquid that can be put into another animal's body by biting or stinging)

An arrow is not a living organism so it does not produce venom; it is poisonous (poison is applied on its tip). Here is how Britannica differentiates venomous from poisonous:

According to biologists, the term venomous is applied to organisms that bite (or sting) to inject their toxins, whereas the term poisonous applies to organisms that unload toxins when you eat them. This means that very few snakes are truly poisonous. The vast majority of snake toxins are transferred by bite.

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    Merriam-Webster begins its primary definition of venom with "a toxic substance produced by some animals..."; If you accept that definition, there's not much more to say, really.
    – phoog
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 9:15
  • @phoog I don't think that would be enough to explain it. Poison is also produced by some animals
    – CodeJunkie
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 9:34
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    There's no reason for ordinary people to talk with precise biological terminology - they often don't (see the argument about what constitutes a "fruit" for instance). Question mentions video games and films, not biological textbooks.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 9:44
  • 'Venomous' is often used metaphorically, but rarely if ever of non–volitional-agents / potential non–volitional-agents. Oxford Languages adds the caveats 'of an animal, especially a snake) for 'secreting venom, or capable of injecting venom by means of a bite or sting' and 'of a person or their behaviour' for 'full of malice'. Admittedly, the literal use of 'venomous' is extended to jellyfish, fire-corals ... that inject poison if hardly as deliberate actions. Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 11:18
  • You could say that the shooter of the arrow is venomous. Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 17:46

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