fatal, fateful
Both words have to do with the workings of fate, and their complex histories, fully explored by the OED, have often intertwined. Fowler (1926) wrote a fond defence of the special meaning of fateful, ‘having far-reaching consequences’, which (unlike fatal) might be good or neutral as well as bad:

• In summing up 1934 we can see, in the light of what was to come, that it was a fateful year —J. F. Kennedy, 1940

• The fateful sequence of events had started with a malfunction in the main pumps supplying cooling water to the reactor's core —C. Aubrey, 1991.

Fatal means ‘causing death’ (as in fatal accident), and can refer to inanimate things and situations as well as to those able to suffer actual death:

• Even when your trump suit is solid, it may still be fatal to touch it too early —Country Life, 1976

• The existence of these private but non-fee-paying schools will have a deeply depressing, if not fatal, effect on other schools in the area —M. Warnock, 1989.

The closest synonyms to fatal in this meaning are catastrophic, disastrous, ruinous. The collocation fatal flaw, which originates as a term in literary criticism for the decisive weakness in character that leads to tragedy, is often used hyperbolically to add significance to the notion of a serious weakness or objection, making it often little more than a cliché:

• Until he faces up to his own fatal flaws, he has no hope of conquering them —Today, 1992

• The fatal flaw in the ban-smacking brigade's thinking is their inability to recognise the difference between a parental smack and violence —South Wales Evening Post, 2004.

Modern English usage. 2014.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • fatal — fatal …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • fatal — fatal, ale [ fatal ] adj. • XIVe; lat. fatalis, de fatum « destin » 1 ♦ Du destin; fixé, marqué par le destin. Le moment, l instant fatal. ⇒ fatidique. « Cette grande figure une et multiple, lugubre et rayonnante, fatale et sacrée, l Homme »… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • fatal — fatal, ale (fa tal, ta l ) adj. 1°   Qui porte avec soi une destinée irrévocable. Le tison fatal de Méléagre. •   Vint enfin le moment du festin fatal de la reine [Esther], dont le favori [Aman] s était tant enorgueilli, BOSSUET Polit. X, III, 5 …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • fatal — fa·tal adj 1: causing failure of a legal claim or cause of action a fatal defect in the proceedings W. R. LaFave and J. H. Israel 2: making something (as a contract) invalid or unenforceable there is a fatal indefiniteness with the result that… …   Law dictionary

  • fatal — adjetivo 1. (antepuesto / pospuesto) Que causa desgracia o que perjudica a una persona o a una cosa: Una recaída en su enfermedad podría ser fatal. Ha sufrido un accidente fatal, ha muerto. Has tomado una decisión de fatales consecuencias. Se… …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • fatal — FATAL, [fat]ale. adj. Qui porte avec soy une destinée inévitable. Le cheveu fatal de Nisus. le dard fatal de Cephale. le tison fatal de Meleagre. le nom des Scipions estoit fatal à l Afrique. sort fatal. destin fatal. loy fatale. decret fatal.… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • fatal — FATÁL, Ă, fatali, e, adj. 1. Care are urmări nenorocite pentru cineva sau ceva; care pricinuieşte moartea; funest. Greşeală fatală. Lovitură fatală. ♦ Nefericit, nenorocit, trist. Deznodământ fatal. 2. Care se consideră că este fixat de destin;… …   Dicționar Român

  • Fatal — Fa tal, a. [L. fatalis, fr. fatum: cf. F. fatal. See {Fate}.] 1. Proceeding from, or appointed by, fate or destiny; necessary; inevitable. [R.] [1913 Webster] These thing are fatal and necessary. Tillotson. [1913 Webster] It was fatal to the king …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Fatal — may refer to:* Redirect to Death * Fatal (Hussein Fatal album) * Fatal Recordings, a feminist record label * Fatal (rapper), a rapper who collaborated with the band Therapy? on the song Come and Die from the soundtrack to the film Judgment Night… …   Wikipedia

  • fatal — Adj verhängnisvoll erw. stil. (16. Jh., Form 17. Jh.) Entlehnung. Entlehnt aus l. fātālis verderbenbringend , einer Ableitung von l. fātum Mißgeschick, Lebensschicksal, Weissagespruch (selten auch deutsch Fatum), zu l. fārī sprechen . Die ältere… …   Etymologisches Wörterbuch der deutschen sprache

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