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[lee-thuh l] /ˈli θəl/
of, relating to, or causing death; deadly; fatal:
a lethal weapon; a lethal dose.
made or carried out to cause death:
a lethal chamber; a lethal attack.
causing great harm or destruction:
The disclosures were lethal to his candidacy.
Origin of lethal
1575-85; < Latin lētālis, equivalent to lēt(um) death + -ālis -al1; spelling (hence pronunciation) with -h- by association with Greek lḗthē oblivion
Related forms
lethality, lethalness, noun
lethally, adverb
hyperlethal, adjective
nonlethal, adjective
nonlethally, adverb
semilethal, adjective
1. See fatal. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for lethal
  • Protection against nuclear bombs, deadly chemicals, and lethal biological agents carries a high price.
  • Snake charmers defang their animals to avoid lethal bites while still giving the impression they are handling deadly snakes.
  • Taking shortcuts on patient care is a potentially lethal pursuit.
  • Topics include how debates over lethal injection affect the wider movement for abolition.
  • Extreme cases of danger to one's own life is, of course, a reason to evaluate the acceptability of lethal harm.
  • Non-toxic, non-lethal and non-harmful is the new motto.
  • Around the corner sits the dispensary where she first encountered an array of lethal poisons, including arsenic and strychnine.
  • The pathogens studied in level three labs can be transmitted through the air and cause potentially lethal infection.
  • The statement amounted to the transmission of a lethal order.
  • Texting while driving a car, or even a train, can be lethal: that is clear.
British Dictionary definitions for lethal


able to cause or causing death
of or suggestive of death
Derived Forms
lethality (liːˈθælɪtɪ) noun
lethally, adverb
Word Origin
C16: from Latin lēthālis, from lētum death
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for lethal

1580s, from Late Latin lethalis, alteration of Latin letalis "deadly, fatal," from letum "death," of uncertain origin. Form altered in Late Latin by association with lethe hydor "water of oblivion" in Hades in Greek mythology, from Greek lethe "forgetfulness."

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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lethal in Medicine

lethal le·thal (lē'thəl)

  1. Capable of causing death.

  2. Of, relating to, or causing death.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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