Accidents and acts of God: a history of the terms

Am J Public Health. 1996 Jan;86(1):101-7. doi: 10.2105/ajph.86.1.101.


Despite criticism from safety professionals, scientists continue to use the word accident, meaning an unexpected, unintended injury, or event. Some argue for its use based on tradition, but "traditional" arguments appear to be invalid given our examination of the history of the word and its companion phrase act of God in statistics, law, and religion. People who were interested in public health recognized in the 1600s that unintended injuries were neither random nor unexpected. Legal scholars in the 1800s saw the word was useless for technical purposes. The word does not appear in the Bible until the mid 1900s and then only in a para-phrased edition. Others have maintained that the meaning of accident is well understood, even though it has not been perfectly defined. We maintain that without a clear definition, people substitute an image, which may be distorted or damaging.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Accidents* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Accidents* / statistics & numerical data
  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 16th Century
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Religion and Medicine
  • Terminology as Topic*