Why do they call it "capital punishment" when referring to the death penalty?

Dear Judge Matthew:

Why do they call it "capital punishment" when referring to the death penalty? And also, what is the way to be executed that causes the least suffering -- hanging, firing squad, guillotine, lethal injection, or electric chair?

-- Ray, somewhere not specified

Caput is Latin for "head." In English, "capital" has been anything noggin-related since the 1200s. The discovery of head-removal as an effective punishment gave us the term "capital sentence" by the 1400s. A British researcher actually studied the suffering associated with execution methods and concluded, naturally, that lethal injection is the most humane. Assuming capital punishment can be "humane." Even with the guillotine, your brain can live for some brief time after being separated from the rest of your body.

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