Writing for Business

May 19 2010   12:42PM GMT

Was he electrocuted or merely shocked?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
The plaintiff maintained that his disability was a result of being ___________ by a faulty device when he was in the hospital.
a. electrocuted
b. shocked

Answer: b.

Although the plaintiff could maintain he’d been electrocuted, it wouldn’t do much for his case. For sticklers, to be electrocuted is to be killed by electricity. The word electrocute was coined as a portmanteau (a word created from parts of two words) of electricity and execute, to refer specifically to death by the electric chair. In the strictest sense, it refers only to electricity by that method and not, for example, sticking a fork in a toaster (unless, I suppose, if you were sentenced to stick the fork in the toaster by a court of law).

Thanks to @GrammarMonkeys for this idea. According to @GrammarMonkeys, the words strangle and smother are similar in that they refer only to acts that result in death.

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