Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • adj. Capable of causing death.
  • adj. Of, relating to, or causing death. See Synonyms at fatal.
  • adj. Extremely harmful; devastating: accusations lethal to the candidate's image.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • adj. deadly; mortal; fatal
  • n. One of the higher alcohols of the paraffine series obtained from spermaceti as a white crystalline solid.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. One of the higher alcohols of the paraffine series obtained from spermaceti as a white crystalline solid. It is so called because it occurs in the ethereal salt of lauric acid.
  • adj. Deadly; mortal; fatal.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • Pertaining to or capable of causing death; deadly; fatal.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • adj. of an instrument of certain death

Etymologies

Late Latin lēthālis, alteration (probably influenced by Lēthē, Lethe) of Latin lētālis, from lētum, death.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Latin lētālis ("mortal, deadly"), improperly written lethalis, from letum ("death"), improperly written as lethum, as associated with Greek λήθη (lethe, "forgetfulness"). (Wiktionary)
Abbreviation of “lauric acid ethereal salt”, so called because it occurs in the ethereal salt of lauric acid. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • In 1934, Stauder coined the term lethal catatonia to characterize an acute, intense excitement state, combining features of mania and delirium, that was associated with fever often high and catatonic signs.

    The Neuropsychiatric Guide to Modern Everyday Psychiatry

  • When the legislation was considered by parliament, ministers made clear there could be circumstances in which it could be used to authorise what they described as "lethal force".

    Libyan dissidents sue MI6 officer over abduction and torture claims

  • And then just before midnight they'll make calls, one more time, to the governor's office and then also to the courts to make sure that nothing has changed and at that point the warden will give the order to give him what they call a lethal cocktail and then the execution will be taking place.

    CNN Transcript Dec 12, 2005

  • Barak told Israel Radio he didn't expect the International Atomic Energy Agency report to persuade Russia and China to impose what he called "lethal" sanctions on Iran to pressure Tehran to dismantle its nuclear installations.

    Breaking News: CBS News

  • Mr. Barak told Israel Radio he didn't expect the International Atomic Energy Agency report to persuade Russia and China to impose what he called "lethal" sanctions on Iran to pressure Tehran to dismantle its nuclear installations.

    The Globe and Mail - Home RSS feed

  • Dec 11, 2008 | not rated yet | no comments yet (PhysOrg. com) -- In a new tactic in the fight against cancer, Cornell researcher Michael King has developed what he calls a lethal "lint brush" for the blood -- a tiny, implantable device that captures and

    PhysOrg.com - latest science and technology news stories

  • The court has for now cleared the way for states to obtain lethal injection drugs from foreign sources.

    Supreme Court OKs Foreign Lethal Injection Drug

  • Hospira spokesman Dan Rosenberg said the company couldn't control how physicians used the drug, adding that many drugs could be used in lethal-injection procedures, "most of which … are intended by their producers for other uses."

    Spotlight on Injection Drug as Judge Stays Execution

  • If you practice and have a good rest and good judgement, this gun/round is lethal from a long long way out.

    In awe of the 257 Weatherby. From an average Joe.

  • Concentration camp prisoners were used in lethal experiments because they were seen as doomed to die anyway, were seen as racial inferiors, and, given the conditions of total war that prevailed, they were considered completely expendable in the service of the national security of the Third Reich.

    Think Progress » GOP Senate candidate compares embryonic stem cell research to ‘what the Nazis did to the Jews.’

Comments

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  • Apparently this has been used as a verb meaning 'kill (animals) painlessly': the O.E.D. quotes newspapers from the Twenties talking about e.g. 'proper lethalling establishments where cats can be put to sleep free of charge'. It seems odd to me to use a word like that and then employ a euphemism a moment later.

    April 28, 2009