Failure – Concept, origin and meaning in different contexts

We explain what failure is and the origin of the term. Also, what is its specific meaning in different contexts.

Failure is something that happens unexpectedly and has negative consequences.

What is failure?

In everyday language, we understand failure as the opposite of success, that is, as a synonym for defeat, ruin or fall. In fact, the first meaning offered by the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy points to the “adverse result of a company or business”, that is, failure It is what goes hopelessly wrong in any field.

Therefore, defining failure can be as complex and difficult as defining success, since its meaning depends largely on the context.

Historically, the word failure comes from Low Italian Latin I will fail, whose approximate translation would be “to break something into pieces”, associating from early moments the notion of failure with that of the accident, that is, with what happens unexpectedly and that brings with it negative and definitive considerations.

In fact, not every accident is a failure, and for that we have the floor serendipity, which describes a lucky accident; But it is true that the emotional and sentimental associations that unfortunate accidents cause are the basis for understanding what failure is.

Thus, when we speak of failure we are referring to something that we live in disastrous, catastrophic terms or, at least, contrary to our desire. Failure is an unfortunate situation that has no compunction or comp: an athlete who is defeated by his rival, an army that is slaughtered in combat, or simply a business that fails to be profitable and goes bankrupt, to name a few possible examples. .

What is unique about the notion of failure is that, in most of its senses, tends to emphasize responsibility for failure, paying little attention to random details or contextual.

For this reason, in a culture oriented towards success and innovation such as that of industrial capitalism of the 20th and 21st centuries, together with the idea of ​​failure, the idea of ​​failure is managed: a person who does not succeed, which has repercussions on the way in which society evaluates your talents, your intelligence, your capabilities. Not in vain this term, “failed”, is used as an insult in numerous contexts (such as the popular loser from English).

Instead, in other contexts, failure or failure is linked to the notion of a system, as is the case in the medical field: when we speak of “acute renal failure”, for example, it refers to the sudden and definitive cessation of functions of said organs (the kidneys), without any type of person being considered responsible.

Even when it is said that a surgical intervention “was a failure”, there is no tendency to emphasize the incapacity of the doctor, nor to blame him for what happened, whether or not he is in fact his responsibility.

Finally, the idea of ​​failure may be linked to certain emotional pathologies such as atychiphobia or ‘fear of failure’, which is a paralyzing and frustrating fear of adverse outcomes, which prevents the person from taking risks or taking actions that could possibly achieve success, sometimes even with relative ease .