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"Mortal Wound" dictionary entry from The New World of English Words By Edward Phillips (1720).
This article is about the English language term. For other uses, see Wound (disambiguation).

A mortal wound is an injury that will ultimately lead to a person's death.[1][2] Mortal refers to the mortality of a human: whether they are going to live or die.[3] Wound is another term for injury. The expression can mean 'extreme',[3] for example when it was used in the 2017 Times article Being Frightened is not a Mortal Wound.[4] The mortal wound adjectival phrase has the same meaning as the adverbial usage of mortally wounded, mortally being the adverb of mortal and wounded being the adjective of wound.



The adjective mortal was first used in the 14th Century. The word has roots in Old French mortel and Latin mortalis both meaning "fated to die" as well as mors meaning "in danger of death".[2][5][6]

The noun wound comes from Old English wund meaning "to injure" as well as the Proto-Germanic *wuntho which also means "wound".[7][6]

Early usageEdit

Marshal Jean Lannes, mortally wounded at the battle of Essling in 1809, his left leg was amputated (right on picture) and he died a few days later.

The first entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for mortal wound is dated 1578[8] and the first entry for mortally wounded is dated 1569.[9] Pre-1569, in the 1390 Melibeus by Geoffrey Chaucer, the author uses the term "mortal woundes" in the quote "Thre of his olde foos..betten his wif wounded his doghter with fyue mortal woundes", this is where Melibeus's daughter received five mortal wounds, when three of his foes found Melibeus's wife and daughter alone in his house.[10]


In 1569, mortally wounded was used in the text Certaine Secrete Wonders Nature by Edward Fenton in "aboue 400 dead bodies, beside 140 mortally wounded and almost torne in peces",[11] the quote explains that due to the extreme heat of a fire 140 men are wounded, the account said that they looked like they had been torn to pieces.

In 1578, mortal wound was used in the poetic text "Courtlie Controuersie of Cupids Caulels " by Jacques Yver translated by Henry Wotton in "His mortal wound, that no long before was almost cured y a fomentation of the oyle of time, and neare skinned with hope of the recouerie of his welbeloued Iewel," the author describes how the personas old mortal wound was not yet recovered and as it was a serious wound, yet he hoped he would recover completely.[8]

In 1581, mortal wound was used in the historical non-fiction History of the Reformation of the Church of England by Gilbert Burnet and Nicholas Sander in “He went to Rome; and giving the Assault, in which received his mortal wound” whereVaudemont went to subdue the battle but was prevented by the Duke of Boubon receiving a mortal wound, the Duke of Boubon then proceeded with the battle in Rome causing many deaths as well as leading The Pope with a few Cardinals to flee for safety.[12]

In 1593, mortal wound was used in the sonnet Fidessa, More Chaste than Kind: Sonnet XXVII in “Yet every foot gives thee thy mortal wound” the quote comes from the Sonnet that describes a man stumbling in the street at night as he metaphorically compares his existence to that of a worm and due to the habitat of worms every step a person takes could be a mortal wound inflicted on worm ultimately leading to its death. In the Sonnet, the man believes that his existence is worse than that of a worm.[13]


In 1661 mortal wound is used in the religious text The Unsearchable Riches of Christ where "The Lord Jesus hath given such a mortal wound by his death and Spirit" the text explains that because Jesus sacrificed himself and received his mortal wound in the New Testament because he did not die straight away but died "little by little" allowed him to rid the whole world of sin.[14]

In 1667 mortal wound is used in John Milton's Paradise Lost VI. In his epic biblical poem based on the retelling of Genesis he uses the term mortal wound in the passage "cannot but by annihilating die; Nor in their liquid texture mortal wound Receive, no more than can the fluid air," Milton explains spirits cannot receive mortal wounds due to the nature of their intangible form.[15]

In 1672 the term mortal wound is used in the medical text The Chirurgical and Anatomical Works of Paul Barbette, the text defines mortal wound as "A mortal Wound is that, which in the Space of few hours, or dayes, of necessity causes Death, and cannot by any Artt be Cured." The text further goes on to explain that if a wound is curable but has been neglected by the patient and results in death that it is not considered a mortal wound even though it resulted in the patients death. This also applies to wounds that are incurable and allow the patient to live for weeks to years. Therefore, the author explains that if the wound does not result in a "sudden" death it is not considered a "mortal wound."[16]


The London Gazette is one of the British governments official journals. In the 1714 The London Gazette: Issue 5228, under the Advertisements section, mortal wound is used to describe an injury a man named Edward Hurley received from a Two-Bill from the quote "Whereas one Henry Bray, Weaver, now or late of Culmstock, in the County of Devon, did on Tuesday the 18th Instant, give one Edward Hurley … a mortal Wound on the Head with a Two-Bill, that he dy’d.” the journal goes on to describe Henry Bray's appearance, mannerisms and the clothes he usually wears as well as stating that anyone that helps bring him to justice will receive a monetary reward.[17]

The first dictionary that had an entry for mortal wound is Edward Phillips's The New World of Words: or, Universal English Dictionary, 16th edition, published in 1720. The entry says "Mortal Wound. See Wound"[18] at the entry for wound the definition for mortal wound states "Mortal Wound, is that which must unavoidably be follow'd by Death, when it is situate deep in a principal Part, necessary for the Preservation of Life: Such are wounds in the Heart, Lungs, Midriff, Liver, Spleen Etc. and generally in all the great Vessels".[19]

Poet Allan Ramsay, during 1724, in Health: a poem 1st edition described “When th’ uvula has got its mortal wound, and tongue and lips form words without a sound;" where he states that the uvula had received a mortal wound, using the term metaphorically to describe an uvula infection possibly due to Influenza which often lead to death in the 1700s.[20][21]

In 1760 mortal wound is used in the Trial of Lawrence Earl Ferrers, for the Murder of John Johnson. John Johnson received "One mortal Wound of the ‘Breadth of One Inch and Depth of Four Inches; of which said moral Wound the said John Johnson did ... live, until the Nineteenth Day of the same Month of January, ... on which Day, ... he the said John Johnson, of the mortal Wound aforesaid, died." During the trial the Juror's found Lawrence Earl Ferrers guilty for murder as he purposefully and without remorse injured John Johnson which lead to his death.[22]

Other examples of "mortal wound" are found inside:


In the 1817 love poem Laon and Cythna by Percy Bysshe Shelley used mortal wound to describe "Upon his enemies heart a mortal wound to wreck," where a metaphorical eagle wished to give his enemy: a serpent, a mortal wound.[25]

The 1838 romance novel Leila II. ii. by Edward Bulwer-Lytton uses mortal wound to depict the scene "while the blood oozes slow and gurgling from a mortal wound," this line occurs when a soldier wearing armour did not appear to have been wounded but blood was leaking from a serious wound he had sustained.[26]

The 1865 text Camps and Prisons. Twenty Months in the Department of the Gulf by Augustine Joseph Hickey Duganne is a collection of personal accounts of the civil war. Mortal wound is used by the author when he exclaims "And the wide land with mortal wound outbleeds!" the author is describing the mass of men that are found with seriously injured throughout the land he stands on.[27]


In the 1982 non-fiction Tortious Liability for Unintentional Harm in the Common Law and the Civil Law, the author discusses problems associated with liability in European Law. He uses the term mortal wound to discuss the issue of accountability regarding mortally wounding a slave. The author states "In the first, Celsus, Marcellus and Ulpian agree that if one man gives a slave a moral wound and another afterwards kills him, only the latter is liable under the first chapter for killing the former only under the third for wounding," while contrastingly he also explains "Julian… says... if one man gives a slave a mortal wound and after an interval another strikes him in a way as to hasten his death, both are liable for killing." The author explains that the juxtaposition is due to Julian focusing on the original wound being intentionally mortal, leading to the slaves death, while Celsus contradicts Julian and mainly focuses on the importance of the resulting death of the slave.[28]

The religious text The Apocalypse: A Reading of the Revelation of John published in 1994 uses the term moral wound in reference to Revelation 13:3, the text describes a beast where “one of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its wound was healed,” The author explains that this section of Revelation 13 refers to the legend of Nero, Roman Emperor, ‘coming back to life’ or still being alive after receiving a mortal wound and his vengeful goal of leading the Parthian army to the destroy Rome.[29][30]

In the 1997 text Virgil's Aeneid: Semantic Relations and Proper Names the author reflects on Virgil's epic poem using mortal wound in "The mortal wound that Turnus inflicted on the youth made this wound an unhealable one." this is where Turnus and Aeneas are battling in Italy, even though Aeneas is injured he returns to battle and "Aeneas inflicts the mortal wound on Turnus in the name of ‘Pallas’." where Aeneas takes vengence for Turnus killing his friend Pallas.[31]

Other examples of "mortal wound" are found inside:

  • The 1964 novel The Mortal Wound by Raffaele La Capria about a man's connection with Naples during his travels to Rome,[32]
  • The 1968 novel King, Queen, Knave by Vladimir Nabokov "he threatened her with a priapus that had already once inflicted upon her an almost mortal wound,"[33]

Modern usageEdit

The number of Google search hits on 12 August 2006 for "mortally wounded" was 989,000 [34] The number of Google hits on 12 October 2018 for "mortal wound" had 346,000 results and "mortally wounded" had 1,660,000 results.

More modern usage of the term mortal wound is often more figurative than literal: seen in the 1998 article Paternal Style Leaves Mortal Wounds by Deutsch Stephen. The article talks about the demise of a hospital without a director present and a proper mission statement which would lead to it's implied 'eventual' death.[35]

Usage in lawEdit

The Law Dictionary (2013) defines the term mortal wound as "the term that is applied to a wound that is fatal"[36]

In the 2007 Republic of Philippines Supreme Court Petition for Review of Lazaro (petitioner) versus Crisaldo Alberto (prosecutor) the decision report uses the term "mortal wound", it discusses the importance of being able to discern whether the petitioner had inflicted a mortal or non-mortal wound on the prosecutor Crisaldo in determining the sentence for Lazaro. If the Jury believed that Crisaldo had been inflicted with a mortal wound, which would have led to death if untreated, then Lazaro would be accused of attempted murder, rather than frustrated murder. [37]

According to Causation in Criminal Law from the Pennsylvania Law Review the term "moral wound" is used to denote that an injury is serious.[38] In Causation in the Law from Oxford University Press, the term "mortal wound" is given three meanings: (i) an injury that is likely to cause death to an average person under normal circumstances (ii) an injury that has a high likelihood of causing the victim death if left untreated medically; (iii) an injury that is likely to cause death even though it does not apply to the first two circumstances (e.g. a minor injury neglected by the victim).[38]

Usage in the mediaEdit

The 2018 Australian news article Dutton delivers mortal wound to Turnbull uses "mortal wound" metaphorically as the death of Prime minister Turnbull's party's support. Member of parliament Petter Dutton challenged Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull for leadership of the Australian Liberal Party. The article describes it as, when fewer than 60% of a prime minister's colleagues support him he is a "dead leader walking."[39]

Being Frightened is not a Mortal Wound is a 2017 article written by the Times Columnist as a response to a letter on the 2nd November, Let’s rethink Halloween Fireworks. The letter describes its dissatisfaction that people believe that taking offence is synonymous with being mortally wounded. They use this stance to argue that people are being overly cautious by trying to alter the halloween fireworks due to the possibility of frightening animals and children.[4]


  1. ^ Easier English intermediate dictionary (2nd ed.). London: Bloomsbury. 2004. ISBN 9781408101995. OCLC 191801970.
  2. ^ a b "Fatal or mortal?". Grammarphobia. 2017-02-22. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  3. ^ a b "mortal_adjective." Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary. 2018. Oxford University Press. Accessed 14 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b "Being frightened is not a mortal wound". Times Colonist. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
  5. ^ "mortal" Online Etymology Dictionary. 2018. Douglas Harper. Accessed 12 September 2018.
  6. ^ a b 1899-1983., Klein, Ernest, (1971). A comprehensive etymological dictionary of the English language : dealing with the origin of words and their sense development thus illustrating the history of civilization and culture (Unabridged, one vol. ed.). Amsterdam: Elsevier Pub. Co. ISBN 978-0585483337. OCLC 53964772.
  7. ^ "wound" Online Etymology Dictionary. 2018. Douglas Harper. Accessed 12 September 2018.
  8. ^ a b "skin. v" OED Online. Draft Revision, September 2009. Oxford University Press. Accessed 12 October 2018.
  9. ^ "mortally, adv". OED Online, Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  10. ^ Chaucer, Geoffrey (1387). The Canterbury Tales: The Tale of Melibeus. England. p. 2.
  11. ^ Boaistuau, Pierre (1569). Certaine secrete wonders of nature, containing a descriptiõ of sundry strange things, seming monstrous in our eyes and iudgement, bicause we are not priuie to the reasons of them. Gathered out of diuers learned authors as well Greeke as Latine, sacred as prophane. Translated by Fenton, Edward. London: Imprinted by H. Bynnemann. p. 20.
  12. ^ Burnet, Gilbert; Sander, Nicholas (1581). History of the Reformation of the Church of England: In two parts, Volume 1. Rose and Crown in St. Paul’s Church-yard: Thomas Hodgkin. p. 6.
  13. ^ Griffin, Bartholomew (1596). Fidessa, More Chaste than Kind. A English Garner: Elizabethan sonnets Vol II. London: Widow Orwin. pp. 261-296: 285.
  14. ^ Brooks, Thomas (1661). The Unsearchable Riches of Christ: The third edition corrected and amended. London: Thomas Ward and Co. p. 43.
  15. ^ Milton, John (1667). Paradise Lost IV. England: Samuel Simmons. p. 348.
  16. ^ Barbette, Paul (1672). The Chirurgical and Anatomical Works of Paul Barbette, M.D. Practitioner at Amsterdam. London: J. Darby. p. 148.
  17. ^ "The London Gazette". The London Gazette (published 25 May 1714) (5228): 2. 12 October 2018 – via The Gazette Official Public Record.
  18. ^ Phillips, Edward (1720). The New World of Words: or, Universal English Dictionary, 16th edition. John Kersey. p. 443.
  19. ^ Phillips, Edward (1720). The New World of Words: or, Universal English Dictionary, 16th edition. John Kersey. p. 711.
  20. ^ Gold, Eli (1987-05-15). "Pandemic Influenza 1700-1900: A Study in Historical Epidemiology". JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association. 257 (19): 2656. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03390190134045. ISSN 0098-7484.
  21. ^ Ramsay, Allan (1800). The Poems of Allan Ramsay, Volume 1. London: A. Strahan. p. 92.
  22. ^ The Trial of Lawrence Earl Ferrers, for the Murder of John Johnson, Before the Right Honourable: The House of Peers, in Westminster-Hall, in Full Parliament. Trials. London: Chancery lane: Order of the house of PEERS. 1760. pp. 205: 4.
  23. ^ Gow, John (1725). A True and Genuine Account of the Last Confession and Dying Words of John Gow, alias Smith, Captain of the Pirates, as likewise of the Eight Others, who were executed with him. London. pp. 10, 15.
  24. ^ Gooch, Benjamin (1767). A Practical Treatise on Wounds and Other Chirurgical Subjects. Norwich: W. Chase. pp. 116, 218.
  25. ^ Shelley, Percy Bysshe (1817). Laon and Cythna; or, The Revolution of the Golden City: A Vision of the Nineteenth Century. London. p. 10.
  26. ^ Lytton, Edward Bulwer (1838). Leila or, The Siege of Granada II. Berlin: A. Asher. pp. Chapter 2: 44.
  27. ^ Duganne, Augustine Joseph Hickey (1865). Camps and prisons : twenty months in the Department of the Gulf. New York: J. P. Robens. p. 344.
  28. ^ Lawson, F. H.; Markesinis, B. S. (1982). Tortious Liability for Unintentional Harm in the Common Law and the Civil Law: Volume 1, Text. Great Britain: Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 31.
  29. ^ Talbert, Charles H. (1994). The Apocalypse: A Reading of the Revelation of John. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 52.
  30. ^ Professor Walter J. Veith, PhD (May 26, 2009). "The First Beast's Wound". Retrieved 2018-11-09.
  31. ^ Paschalis, Michael (1997). Virgil's Aeneid: Semantic Relations and Proper Names. New York: Clarendon Press: Oxford. p. 12.
  32. ^ La Capria, Raffaele (1964). The Mortal Wound. New York: Farrar & Straus.
  33. ^ Nabokov, Vladimir (1968). King, Queen, Knave. Translated by Nabokov, Dmitri. US: McGraw-Hill. p. 177.
  34. ^ Cognitive linguistic approaches to teaching vocabulary and phraseology. Boers, Frank., Lindstromberg, Seth, 1949-. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. 2008. p. 337. ISBN 9783110199161. OCLC 560639481.CS1 maint: others (link)
  35. ^ Deutsch, S. I. (1998). "Paternal style leaves mortal wounds". Government Executive. 30 (3): 33 – via ProQuest.
  36. ^ "What is MORTAL WOUND? definition of MORTAL WOUND (Black's Law Dictionary)". The Law Dictionary. 2013-03-28. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  37. ^ "Lazaro v. Alberto, Petition for Review 2007". Republic of Philippines, Supreme Court. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  38. ^ a b Midson, Brenda (2010). "Teaching Causation in Criminal Law: Learning to Think Like Policy Analysts". Legal Education Review. 20(1&2): 109.
  39. ^ "Dutton delivers mortal wound to Turnbull". Retrieved 2018-09-14.

Further readingEdit