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Electrocution just got better

[31 Jan 2012] In times past, electrocution meant being killed by electricity. The 1993 edition of the ‘New Shorter Oxford’ specifies this meaning only. Now, though, the language has changed so that modern dictionaries like the ‘New Oxford’ and ‘Encarta’ allow electrocute to mean injure by electricity. Thus the Guardian on 14 December: ‘The 16-year-old boy [was], beaten, electrocuted to the point he thought he would die, then threatened with execution.’

This change means that readers need more words to figure out whether the victim has died, so we could soon see expressions like ‘electrocuted to death’. Thus, when a Daily Mail report says: ‘A 46-year-old man was electrocuted while trying to steal copper from an electricity sub-station...’, we can’t be sure. Fortunately the next three words, ‘an inquest heard’, reveal all. [MC]

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