Is it correct to say I electrocuted my friend if he was only injured by electricity?


10 Answers 10


The term electrocute was originally coined in 1889¹ by splicing the prefix electro- into the word execute. It originally meant execute (by electric shock). However, its meaning has evolved over time: first to also include accidental death by electric shock and later to include electrical injury,² generally serious in nature. So your use of the word does not fit the original nineteenth century meaning, but is perfectly in line with the broader meaning of the word as it is understood today.

  • MW and nearly all of the TFD entries, do not agree that this word has "evolved" (nor Wiki, outside of British English).
    – Mazura
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 23:16
  • Actually, the first few attempted electrocutions (ie, executions via electric shock) failed, though prior to that a number of people (probably hundreds) were killed by what we would now call "accidental electrocution".
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 20:28
  • @Mazura Oxford is a reputable source. It attests this meaning in American English also. So does the Macmillan, another reputable source. I go to these frequently because of the quality of their research. The Free Dictionary has its uses, but despite its name it is not a dictionary. Rather it is a compilation from free sources, notably 19th century dictionaries. M-W is reliable if you go to the unabridged.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 20:28
  • @HotLicks - "What about those bank robbers? The ones that made that suicide pact." - "Did they commit suicide?" - "Obviously not, Damon." - "Then they're unreliable." (The Running Man, 1987)
    – Mazura
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 15:46
  • @MετάEd - I wouldn't use an American dictionary to attest to British English.
    – Mazura
    Commented May 13, 2016 at 15:58

Oxford Dictionaries says:

electrocute: injure or kill (someone) by electric shock.

So, yes, if someone is electrocuted, they can just be injured.

  • 4
    Is that like the People's Front of Judea?
    – Mitch
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 19:24
  • 7
    People's Front of Judea? Splitters!
    – MetaEd
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 19:53
  • Electrocution is death caused by electric shock... In British English the word also covers non-fatal injuries -Wiki
    – Mazura
    Commented Jul 5, 2015 at 23:05

My husband is an electrician. He reports that in the industry, electrocute is always used to mean death by electricity. They say electrified or (colloquially) lifted to mean receiving an electric shock that is not fatal.


You will sometimes see people use it incorrectly when they actually mean shock or, in other words, when someone or something receives an electrical current.

Electrocution actually derives from electricity + execute: “to put to death by means of electricity”. So the correct usage means that someone or something has been killed via powerful electrical current.

Also I may mention that an electrocution also implies the intent of death. So you may electrocute your friend if the intended outcome is their demise, though they may live through it.

  • The two dictionaries I consulted agree with you. From American Heritage, 4th ed.:"electrocute 1.To kill with electricity: a worker who was electrocuted by a high-tension wire 2. To execute (a condemned prisoner) by means of electricity." And from Dorland's Illustrated Medical Dictionary, 30th ed.: electrocution: the taking of life by passage of electric current through the body"
    – JLG
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 20:46
  • @JLG: I think there might be differences in usage between AmE and BrE due to the fact that in US death penalty is still frequently applied by electrocute. This method is completely unknown for Brits. However, even the NOAD has a 'special usage' in the sense you are recalled.
    – user19148
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 21:55
  • 1
    @Carlo_R, Interesting point, though it is NOT true that the death penalty "is still frequently applied" by electrocution in the U.S. Electrocution is no longer used in the U.S., except if an inmate in certain states chooses it: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_chair
    – JLG
    Commented Jul 8, 2012 at 22:12
  • 8
    "Electrocution actually derives from Electricity + Execute or, to put to death by means of electricity. So, the correct usage means that someone or something has been killed via powerful electrical current." The conclusion may be correct, but the argument is 100% bogus. The derivation of a word tells us nothing whatsoever about its correct usage. This is the etymological fallacy. Commented Jul 12, 2012 at 5:10

It depends on the degree of precision that’s appropriate for the register you are talking or speaking in.

In more formal use, electrocute would only refer to execution with electricity.

In less formal use, it could refer both to an accidental killing, and a mere injury.

This sense is later, came into the language by extension in colloquial use, and – pertinent to your question – is considered incorrect by some and is at odds with its etymology. It’s this last that makes it better avoided when a formal register or precise use is intended; in day-to-day use it won’t matter that some people might argue pedantically against it, but other times you want to be free from even the worse stickler’s arguments.

  • 2
    If we allow electrocution survivors, next stop is non-lethal executions, immobile automobiles, inaudible telephones and invisible televisions. No sorry the slippery-pope fallacy doesn't apply..
    – geotheory
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 13:30

Unless the injury is life-threatening or at least very severe, I would recommend “I shocked him”, maybe adding “with electricity” if it’s not clear enough from the context.


You could try saying, “I electrified my friend!”

Not precisely what you’re looking for, but at least we’ll know you made a big impression on your friend!


Comparing with other words, drowning is necessarily a form of death but shooting is primarily a source of injury. How do we want to view electrocution? It’s all in the mind, I suppose.

  • 1
    The difference lies in the root of the word - 'cution' refers to a method of death.
    – geotheory
    Commented Dec 22, 2014 at 13:15

Informally, using "electrocute" to refer to serious, non-fatal injury is acceptable, but I would advise against it; people who know the correct formal definition may think someone died.


Both fatally and injuriously:

2001 Times (Nexis) 28 July In Georgia I stood outside death row as the state electrocuted a man I thought was probably innocent.

1988 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) (Nexis) 10 May I was electrocuted. I can still smell the flesh burning.

Like much of English, a word is understood in context.

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