what's the difference between by mistake and by accident?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by wzxyvonne, Feb 21, 2010.

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  1. wzxyvonne New Member

    Chinese
    hi everyone,
    i have encountered some confusions, could anyone kindly help me to clarify the differences between the following pair of words? thanks so much in advance!

    1. i did something by mistake/ by accident
    << Each pair is a separate topic. >>

     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2010
  2. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Hello wzxyvonne - welcome to WordReference :)

    Can you tell us what you think is the difference?
    That makes it a lot easier to help you.

    (Please remember to write the pronoun I as a capital letter :))
     
  3. wzxyvonne New Member

    Chinese
    Thank you for the reminder, hehe
    To me, they sounds the same. but maybe by accident sounds more accidentally? If it's by mistake, the doer will bear more responsibility for it? I am really confused. Please help me to clarify, if possible. Thanks again!
     
  4. Thomas Tompion Senior Member

    Southwest France
    English - England
    Here's a very tentative suggestion:

    A person can do something by accident - he did it without intending the consequences which followed, or by mistake - he did it without intending to do it.

    Something can happen by accident - there's a suggestion of coincidence, maybe unhappy or happy.

    Something cannot easily happen by mistake - you need a person's volition to be mistaken, for something to be by mistake.
     
  5. entangledbank

    entangledbank Senior Member

    London
    English - South-East England
    Here's another suggestion: an accident need not have happened at all; a mistake is where one thing happens when the other one should have. You knock over a vase, or spill a drink, or burn a cigarette hole in the blanket, by accident. You didn't intend to do this, or anything like this. (You might have intended to put the cigarette on an ashtray, but that's very different from putting it on the blanket: you didn't get confused between the ashtray and the blanket as similar things.) If you want to take ibuprofen and it's dark and you open another packet instead, this is a mistake. (Don't laugh, I just took ibuprofen by mistake.) You did intend to take a pill, but by mistake you took the wrong one.

    Later that morning. It turns out the above distinction is good in theory but isn't true in practice. My mother just told me she had bumped into a cabinet by mistake and knocked the door open.
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2010
  6. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 73)
    UK English
    The philosopher J.L.Austin (in Philosophical Papers, 1961) was kind enough to explain the difference between mistake and accident as follows:
    "You have a donkey, so have I, and they graze in the same field. The day comes when I conceive a dislike for mine.
    I go to shoot it, .......... fire. . . but as I do so, the beasts move, and to my horror yours falls."

    According to William Hodges (Logic 1977): "In the situation described [above] I have shot your beast by accident, I have not shot it by mistake; which shows that shooting by mistake and shooting by accident are not the same thing."

    The only problem I have with this explanation is that it is too subtle for me. :) What do others think?
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2012
  7. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    It is a valid distinction, because he hit the donkey he did not mean to hit. He missed the one he was aiming at.
    That was an accident caused by the donkeys moving.

    If he had gone to the field, misidentified the donkeys, aimed at the wrong one and hit it, that would be shooting it by mistake.
     
  8. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    Texas
    English - US
    I don't think the situation as written in post #6 makes it entirely clear which one of these two things happened.
     
  9. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    This seems unambiguous to me. He knows which donkey is which. He only hits the wrong one because they moved.
     
  10. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    Texas
    English - US
    To make a logical argument, one shouldn't leave assumptions unstated. It doesn't actually say that he knows which is which until one falls. It doesn't state that there is any way to tell them apart. Perhaps he runs over to the fallen donkey and reads its ear tag. Perhaps he can only tell them apart by a marking that is revealed during the fall or by the way one of them limps. It doesn't even state that he can see both of them before the shot.
     
  11. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    London
    English - British
    It seems to me to have been carefully and economically expressed.
    (1) 'It' (the animal he tries to shoot) refers to 'mine'. Then (2), as he shoots, the beasts move and (3) 'yours' falls. The expression 'to my horror' shows the result was not intended.

    Those propositions are presented as facts within the example. It is a summary of the case after the event.
    Austin is surely permitted to choose what the facts are in his own example.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2012
  12. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    Texas
    English - US
    Yes, whether it is an accident or a mistake, his intent is to shoot his donkey.

    Again, we're not told how he knows this donkey is yours. It's also possible that both donkeys fall.
    We're not specifically told that he knew that both donkeys were actually in the field before "the beasts move". Perhaps he only saw one of the two hardly distinguishable donkeys, assumed it was his because he told the stable boy to let it into the field, then after the shooting realized one donkey was behind the other and he shot both of them. It doesn't say what happened to his donkey other than it moved. We don't know if the other donkey moves and then falls, or if the fall is counted as its move.

    Neither accidents nor mistakes are intended. He can be horrified either way.

    Certainly. He can also hide, fail to disclose, forget to mention relevant information. I only know what is written in the post which may not be the whole story. The post also gives Hodges's conclusion not Austin's.
     
  13. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 73)
    UK English
    The only phrase I haven't quoted is "shoot it, draw a bead on it, fire. . ."
    The three dots are written by Hodges, who may have left out some important information.
     
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