Fatal In The English Language

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The word fatal came about in the English language in the Middle English period, circa 1347. Originally the adjectival form of fate, it initially meant “allotted or decreed by fate or destiny; destined, fated” (OED, 2015). Up until the early 16th century, circa 1518, its various definitions continued to revolve around the idea of “destiny”, portraying the largely stagnant semantic change lasting for almost two centuries.
Its initial borrowing likely came as a result of the Norman Conquest of 1066, which placed French and English speakers linguistically in close contact, and subsequently large amounts of words were borrowed from Old French. Due to the French ‘high society’ emerging as a result of the conquest, the Anglo-French diglossia (Bergs,
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Barclay is first recorded using fatal in its most common Modern Day English usage, meaning “producing or resulting in death, destruction, or irreversible ruin, material or immaterial; deadly, destructive, ruinous.” (OED, 2015), in his work Fyfte Eglog, 1518, in which he talked about a “fatal fruyte (fruit)”. This seems to allude to the “fruit” of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, as mentioned in Genesis 2:17 (MacArthur, 2006), which suggests that the strengthened use of fatal in its modern day definition may have started within the Christian Church, tying in with its beliefs of the ultimate fate of humans being a death decreed by God from the fall of man in the Garden of Eden and from the beginning of time. This is further supported by OED’s next recorded example, from the Roxburghe Ballads, 1685-8, a Christian book of Ballads (Spufford, 1995), in which the author writes, “O that my sorrows were ended, by the most fatalest hand”. This “fatalest hand” may refer to the hand of God as, in multiple verses such as Job 12:10, God’s hand is referred to as that in which “the life of every living thing...And the breath of all mankind” is held, proving its possibly fatal …show more content…
Clearly linked to the current meaning of “ruinous” or “deadly”, it is used in noun phrases such as “fatal errors” or “fatal exceptions” to denote a “sudden end to the running of a [computer] program” (Dictionary.com, 2015), as if the program was dying. This more figurative use of the word is a one that is used in the jargon of a very specific set of people, mainly those who are skilled and learned in computer software, and is recorded as early as circa 1997. Therefore, this usage does not signify further semantic change, but rather a modern day application of fatal’s current

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