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:

  • Fateful — Fate ful, a. . Having the power of serving or accomplishing fate. The fateful steel. J. Barlow. [1913 Webster] 2. Significant of fate; ominous. [1913 Webster] The fateful cawings of the crow. Longfellow. {Fate ful*ly}, adv. {Fate ful*ness}, n.… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • fateful — [adj1] significant acute, apocalyptic, conclusive, critical, crucial, decisive, determinative, direful, doomful, eventful, important, inauspicious, momentous, ominous, portentous, resultful; concept 568 Ant. insignificant, unimportant fateful… …   New thesaurus

  • fateful — index critical (crucial), fatal, key, major, momentous, necessary (inescapable), portentous ( …   Law dictionary

  • fateful — 1710s, prophetic, from FATE (Cf. fate) + FUL (Cf. ful). Meaning of momentous consequences is from c.1800. Related: Fatefully …   Etymology dictionary

  • fateful — Cminous, portentous, inauspicious, unpropitious Analogous words: momentous, significant, important (see corresponding nouns at IMPORTANCE): decisive, determinative, *conclusive: crucial, critical, *acute …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • fateful — ► ADJECTIVE ▪ having far reaching and typically disastrous consequences. DERIVATIVES fatefully adverb fatefulness noun …   English terms dictionary

  • fateful — [fātfəl] adj. 1. revealing what is to come; prophetic 2. having important consequences; significant; decisive 3. controlled as if by fate 4. Obs. bringing death or destruction SYN. OMINOUS fatefully adv. fatefulness n …   English World dictionary

  • fateful — fate|ful [ˈfeıtfəl] adj [usually before noun] having an important, especially bad, effect on future events fateful day/night/year etc ▪ The goalkeeper on that fateful day in 1954 was Fred Martin of Aberdeen. ▪ When his rent was raised, he made… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • fateful — adjective Date: circa 1720 1. having a quality of ominous prophecy < a fateful remark > 2. a. involving momentous consequences ; decisive < made his fateful decision to declare war W. L. Shirer > b. deadly, catastrophic 3. controlled by fate …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • fateful — fate|ful [ feıtfəl ] adjective a fateful action, event, or time is one that has an important and usually bad effect on what happens in the future: Since that fateful day her life had not been worth living …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

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