Coup de grâce

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19th-century painting of Native American hunters gathering around a mortally wounded buffalo, and engaging in a victory shout before administering their "coup de grâce" to the animal

A coup de grâce (/ˌk də ˈɡrɑːs/; French: [ku də ɡʁɑs] (About this soundlisten) 'blow of mercy') is a death blow to end the suffering of a severely wounded person or animal.[1][2] It may be a mercy killing of mortally wounded civilians or soldiers, friends or enemies, with or without the sufferer's consent.

Examples of coup de grâce include shooting the heart or head (typically the back of the skull) of a wounded, but still living, person during an execution or by humanely killing a suffering, mortally wounded soldier, in war, for whom medical aid is not available. In pre-firearms eras the wounded were finished with edged or impact weapons to include cutting throats, blows to the head, and thrusts to the heart. Other examples include the officer leading a firing squad administering a coup de grâce to the condemned with a pistol if the first hail of gunfire fails to kill the prisoner; or a kaishakunin who performs a beheading to quickly end a samurai's agony after seppuku.

The phrase may also refer to the final event that causes a figurative death:[2] "The business had been struggling for years. The sharp jump in oil prices was the coup de grâce."

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  1. ^ Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries, eds. The American Heritage Guide to Contemporary Usage and Style. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005. ISBN 978-0618604999 p. 119.
  2. ^ a b Charles Harrington Elster. The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated Guide for the Careful Speaker. 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin, 2006. ISBN 978-0618423156 pp. 110–111.

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