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Definition of Suicide

(noun) Intentionally killing oneself alone or as part of a group.

Examples of Suicide

Suicide Pronunciation

Pronunciation Usage Guide

Syllabification: su·i·cide

Audio Pronunciation

– American English
– British English

Phonetic Spelling

  • American English – /sOO-uh-sied/
  • British English – /syOO-i-sied/

International Phonetic Alphabet

  • American English – /ˈsuəˌsaɪd/
  • British English – /ˈsjʊɪsaɪd/

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Usage Notes

  • Plural: suicides
  • The study of suicide is suicidology.
  • An attempted suicide is when an individual is unsuccessful in killing themselves.
  • In 1897, Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) published Suicide, which examined statistics from over 25,000 suicides. He said, “suicide varies inversely with the degree of integration of the social groups to which the individual belongs” (Durkheim [1897] 2004:106). He then categorized the suicides into four categories:
    • altruistic suicide
    • anomic suicide
    • egoistic suicide
    • fatalistic suicide
  • Durkheim also found, due to the loss of social integration, a correlation between suicide and widowhood which he called domestic anomie.
  • An archaic legal term for an individual that commits suicide is felo de se, from Latin for “felon of himself.”
  • Type: physician-assisted suicide
  • A (adjective) suicidal individual commits suicide.

Related Quotations

  • “Although suicide has been recorded in both written and oral records in the history of man from primitive times on, no word existed for the phenomenon until the seventeenth century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word suicide was first used in 1651, but Alfred Alvarez reported in 1972 that it appeared in Sir Thomas Browne’s Religio Medici in 1642. The Oxford English Dictionary states that the word suicidium was actually derived by combining the Latin pronoun for ‘self’ and the verb ‘to kill.’ The word sounds deceptively Latin, but Henry Romilly Fedden, in his 1938 book Suicide, stated that the Romans described the act using Latin phrases, such as vim sibi inferre (to cause violence to oneself), sibi mortem consciscere (to procure one’s own death), and sua manu cadere (to fall by one’s own hand). Early English also used phrases, such as self-murder, self-destruction, and self-killer, all of which reflect the early association of the act with murder” (Farberow 2003:795–96).
  • Anomie, therefore, is a regular and specific factor in causing suicide in our modern societies. It is one of the sources feeding the annual totals. This is a new type that must be distinguished from the others. It differs from them in that it does not depend on the way in which individuals are attached to society, but on the way in which they are regulated by society. Egoistic suicide stems from the fact that men no longer see a reason for living; altruistic suicide comes from the fact that this reason appears to them to lie outside life itself; the third kind of suicide, whose existence we have just established, comes from the fact that their activity is unregulated and they suffer as a consequence. Because of its origin, we shall call this last type ‘anomic suicide'” (Durkheim [1897] 2004:81).
  • “Everywhere, without exception, Protestants evidence many more suicides than members of other denominations. The propensity of Jews to commit suicide is always less than that of Protestants; in general terms, though to a lesser degree, it is also lower than that of Catholics” (Durkheim [1897] 2004:72).
  • “Existing data sources for [secondary analysis] include public records, official reports of organizations or government agencies, and raw data collected by other researchers. For example, Durkheim used vital statistics (death) that were originally collected for other purposes to examine the relationship among variables such as age, marital status, and the circumstances surrounding a person’s suicide” (Kendall 2006:32–33).
  • “If, as we have just seen, excessive individualism leads to suicide, insufficient individualism produces the same effects. When man is detached from society, he can easily kill himself, and this is also the case when he is too strongly integrated in society” (Durkheim [1897] 2004:77).
  • “If, instead of seeing suicides only as isolated, individual events that need to be examined separately, one considers all suicides committed in a particular society during a specific time period as a whole, it is evident that the total thus obtained is not simply a sum of independent units, a collective total, but constitutes in itself a new fact sui generis, which has its own unity and individuality, and therefore, its own pre-eminently social nature” (Durkheim [1897] 2004:68).
  • “There is reliable evidence that suicide was present in most primitive tribes around the world, almost always associated with evil spirits, revenge, and unappeased anger. These attitudes in the form of superstitions and fears of magic found their way into Christianity as taboos that have persisted to this day. Attitudes toward suicide, however, have shown great variability depending on the culture and the part of the world. In primitive societies suicide was variously used as a means to exact vengeance, as a way of placing responsibility for the death on the person who had supposedly caused it, and as a way of embarrassing an adversary” (Farberow 2003:796).

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Additional Information

Related Terms


Durkheim, Émile. [1897] 2004. “Suicide.” in Readings from Emile Durkheim. Rev. ed., edited and translated by K. Thompson. New York: Routledge.

Farberow, Norman L. 2003. “Suicide Basics: History.” Pp. 795–800 in Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, edited by R. Kastenbaum. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.

Kendall, Diana. 2006. Sociology in Our Times: The Essentials. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Works Consulted

Andersen, Margaret L., and Howard Francis Taylor. 2011. Sociology: The Essentials. 6th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Clinard, Marshall Barron, and Robert Frank Meier. 2011. Sociology of Deviant Behavior. 14th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Dillon, Michele. 2014. Introduction to Sociological Theory: Theorists, Concepts, and their Applicability to the Twenty-First Century. 2nd ed. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Ferrante, Joan. 2011. Sociology: A Global Perspective. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Oxford University Press. (N.d.) Oxford Dictionaries. (https://www.oxforddictionaries.com/).

Taylor & Francis. (N.d.) Routledge Handbooks Online. (https://www.routledgehandbooks.com/).

Wiley. (N.d.) Wiley Online Library. (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/).

Cite the Definition of Suicide

ASA – American Sociological Association (5th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “suicide.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Retrieved September 29, 2022 (https://sociologydictionary.org/suicide/).

APA – American Psychological Association (6th edition)

suicide. (2013). In K. Bell (Ed.), Open education sociology dictionary. Retrieved from https://sociologydictionary.org/suicide/

Chicago/Turabian: Author-Date – Chicago Manual of Style (16th edition)

Bell, Kenton, ed. 2013. “suicide.” In Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Accessed September 29, 2022. https://sociologydictionary.org/suicide/.

MLA – Modern Language Association (7th edition)

“suicide.” Open Education Sociology Dictionary. Ed. Kenton Bell. 2013. Web. 29 Sep. 2022. <https://sociologydictionary.org/suicide/>.