"terminally" = utterly; extraordinarily

Victor aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jun 30 14:52:11 UTC 2009

I find it interesting that people are running with the narrow meaning of
"terminally" as "leading to death", when there is a perfectly good
meaning of "terminal" as "at the end" or "at the limit" (e.g., "terminal
velocity" obviously has nothing to do with death). Also, the meaning of
the "train terminal" has evolved to mean something more than just "end
station" and now means pretty much ANY station, but the original meaning
also implies "at the end" (although, in this case, for a noun). So I am
puzzled why people are stuck on the death-related definitions when
perfectly reasonable alternatives for reanalysis are already available
and have been available long before "terminally ill" became a euphemism
for "dying".

But even if we take up the medical sense of "terminally" (as in
"terminally ill"), there is yet another alternative reanalysis. It's not
just that someone's terminal condition results in death, but s/he is
also "beyond help". In this sense, all the "terminally X" conditions are
"beyond help". Someone who is "terminally stupid" cannot be helped
and/or cured of being stupid--I suppose, s/he will also take the
condition to his grave, but there is NO implication that the condition
will CAUSE his death.

There seems to be a recency effect problem here--and it's not just
people are trying to make death-related jokes on the subject.


Amy West wrote:
> This puts me in mind of the "terminally stupid" phrase that I hear
> sometimes. There the use of "terminally" makes sense to me as the
> implication is that the person/act is so stupid that it will cause
> terminaton of the person's life.
> ---Amy West
>> Date:    Sun, 28 Jun 2009 17:51:34 -0400
>> From:    Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
>> Subject: "terminally" = utterly; extraordinarily
>> Not in OED but common in humorous and semi-humorous speech for a long time
>> (30 years?).
>> The first time I've encountered it used with a straight face:
>> 2008  Brian Hanley  _Planning for Conflict in the Twenty-First Century_
>> (Greenwood) 126: Another illustration of the terminally insidious impact on
>> French society of the Great War.
>> Professor Hanley, who holds an M. Litt. from Oxford University, teaches at
>> the U.S. Air Force Academy.
>> JL

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