dead man’s switch n. especially in railroad usage, a safety device meant to stop or slow a vehicle or machine if its operator releases the controls. Also dead man’s handle, dead man’s brake, dead man’s lever, dead man’s pedal. (source: Double-Tongued Dictionary)

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  1. Slithy Tove says:

    I’ve run across this term in print as ‘dead man switch’, with the ‘s’ sound believed, by the writer, only to be part of the word ‘switch’.

    Interesting that almost all of these examples quote the phrase, and most formally explain it, assuming the reader is unfamiliar with the term, even though it’s been around for at least a hundred years, and obviously comes up fairly often in both in reporting and fiction.

    The last usage seems to be incorrect, BTW. Surely there isn’t a member of the team sitting on a switch at all times? And if he dies, the fireworks show will automatically start? I don’t think so. I suspect the term the writer is looking for is ‘safety interlock’ or something similar, which is the opposite of a dead man switch.

    But geez, it’s from a local TV news show, awfulness in both prose and fact-finding is a given.

  2. degustibus says:

    In 2004 there was a piece of freeware circulating called dead man’s switch, that would erase your harddrive at a specified time interval, unless you entered a password.

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