A Fatal Drowning and Other Deadly Redundancies

109

“A 16-year-0ld high school junior drowned to death Tuesday…”

“There were six fatal drownings at seaside resorts in 2011…”

Drowned to death? A fatal drowning? Yes, those are redundant expressions. Drowning, by definition, means “dying by being underwater and unable to breathe.” But this kind of error isn’t uncommon in publications. Keep an eye out for this kind of deadly redundancy and get familiar with these other potentially misleading words.

(Today’s post seems a bit depressing. Sorry about that.)

Assassination:

Assassination is always deadly. It is the murder of a person of political importance.

Drowning:

As I said, drowning always implies death by submersion in water. People often use drown in a non-literal way, however–as in drowning one’s sorrows or drowning in work.

Electrocution:

Electrocution implies death by electricity. If the victim is non-fatally injured, he was simply shocked.

Homicide:

Homicide is another word for murder and by definition results in death. This is true of all the -cides: genocide, patricide, algaecide, etc.

Immolation:

Immolation means killing by fire. It always results in death. Self-immolation is suicide by setting yourself on fire. (Please don’t do that.)

Starvation:

People can die of starvation, but they can also merely suffer from it. It’s not redundant to say someone starved to death.

Strangulation:

Strangling or strangulation means to kill by squeezing the throat, but the word is often used in a figurative sense, so it’s not always apparent that someone who has been strangled is dead.

Suicide:

Suicide means self-killing. If the attempt fails, it is called attempted suicide. Suicide, however, can be used figuratively as well.

Suffocation:

There is a non-literal way to use this word. You can say, for example, that the air in a room is suffocating (especially after I remove my shoes).  Asphyxiation, on the other hand, just means one stops breathing. It can result in death, but it doesn’t have to.

Chart:

 

REDUNDANT

NOT NECESSARILY REDUNDANT

Fatal assassination

Starved to death

Fatal drowning/ drowned to death

Strangled to death

Fatal electrocution

Fatal homicide/murder/killing

Fatal immolation

 

Fatal suicide

Fatal suffocation/ suffocated to death

OFTEN USED FIGURATIVELY (NOT IMPLYING DEATH)

Killing               (The Eagles are killing the Vikings in the 3rd quarter.)

Murder             (These new government regulations are murder.)

Self-immolation  (Anything was better than the self-immolation of a confession.)

Starving           (When will dinner be ready, Dad? I’m starving!)

Strangling         (Heavy taxation is strangling job growth.)

Suffocating        (This air in this room is suffocating.)

Suicide              (A vote for that bill would be political suicide.)

*****

Feel free to leave any killer comments below.

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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    • Brian Wasko
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      Sure. I put algaecide on my siding every now and then to kill the mossy black buildup. It kills the algae. Just like pesticides kill pests. :)

    • Grammar Nut
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      Yes, that makes sense. I was picturing a newspaper headline: Fatal algaecide took place today. Residents calling it a “horrifying tragedy” and “unthinkable crime”. :)

  105. Jason
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    I (and several dictionaries) would like to dispute electrocution. It can refer to non-fatal injury. Shock is too vague as that can be a medical condition having nothing to do with electricity.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko12-03-2013

      Point taken, but after some research, I’m sticking with it. Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, and American Heritage all list only “death by execution.” The OED and Google dictionary includes the idea of injury by electricity.

      The word was formed in America in the mid-1800s as a portmanteau combination of “electricity” and “execution.” It was shorthand for execution by electric chair. This doesn’t mean the meaning can’t change over time, of course, but I’m still recommending that writers assume “electrocute” implies death.

      I disagree that “shock” is too vague. In its literal sense, it’s quite clear and can be reinforced as “electric shock” if there is any doubt.

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