Monday, April 16, 2007

Miraculous Survivors of Electrocution

Lots of specialized words describe how someone dies. For instance, "execution" is when someone is killed by a body or person in authority (justly or otherwise) for crimes they have actually or allegedly committed. "Asphyxiation" is when someone dies for lack of oxygen. "Decapitation" is when someone has their head cut off.*

There are also a lot of words ending in "-cide" ("homicide", "suicide", "matricide", "patricide", "regicide", "genocide", "infanticide", "pesticide", "spermicide", and so on) that specify who exactly is being offed. Wikipedia has a great list of these, of which the best is "vespacide", for the killing of wasps, which reminds me that those little scooters must have the name they do because they buzz around annoyingly. But I digress.

"Electrocution" is one of the former type, but unlike – say – "defenestration", which means "throwing or being thrown out a window", it's always fatal. To electrocute someone is to kill them by administering a lethal dose of electricity. A non-lethal dose of electricity is just an electric shock, not an electrocution. So be skeptical next time someone tells you they were electrocuted when they took the fuzzy blankets out of the dryer.

*The same word applies in French, and figures in one of my all-time favourite gruesome Montreal tabloid headlines: "Decapitée en cherchant le corps de son fils", about a woman whose head was skimmed off by a wire while she was snowmobiling in the dark in search of her son's body. He had gone through thin ice on another snowmobile, I think: a quintessential Quebec tragedy.

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