Drowning and Death

Sat Nov 30 16:26:24 UTC 2013

In the latest World Wide Words, Michael Quinion argues that one who has drowned necessarily has died and states that the definition of "drown" in numerous dictionaries reflects this everyday understanding.  He notes that several readers argued that drowning isn't necessarily fatal because victims can be resuscitated.

I first heard a distinction in 1981, when a friend told about receiving a call in which she was informed that her daughter had drowned but was hastily reassured that her daughter was okay.   This use of the term is much older, however.  Here are two examples from 1869, via ProQuest.

Charles Lanoaster, How We Drown and Are Resuscitated, Appletons' Journal of Literature, Science and Art 9:271 (29 May 1869):  Doubtless the most salutary treatment of a drowned person consists in placing him on his back in a half-reclining position, and keeping up a lively friction of the extremities with warm flannels, at the same time turning him gently and constantly from side to side, in order to put in motion the resident air in the lungs, for if this can be accomplished the diaphragm will contract, an inhalation may be looked for, and life saved.

Drowned and Resuscitated, New York Evangelist (22 July 1869):  The following experience of one who was drowned and resuscitated, was narrated to one of the editors of the Religious Herald, by a student of Richmond (Va.) College, in a letter dated June 4, 1869.

It is possible that the second example, however, accepts that drowning and death are intimately associated, but simply does not consider them irreversible.  The student's letter includes the following passage:  It is, to say the least, a terrific thought to know that I have actually died, and yet am alive.

John Baker

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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