English English language Etymology Usage Word origin

An old usage risen from the dead

Q: In a usage that I hope is not becoming common, my 21-year-old grandson said he had “deaded” a former friend he had argued with. Are others using dead as a verb?

A: Well, the usage is out there, and it occasionally shows up in print.

Here’s an example from a brief item in the Sept. 1, 2014, issue of Rolling Stone about Kanye West’s performance at the Budweiser Made in America Festival in Philadelphia:

“At one point, he deaded rumors that he and Jay Z were on less-than-good terms.”

In fact, you can find written examples of the usage dating back to Anglo-Saxon days, but it’s not common today and it’s not considered standard English.

Only one of the eight standard dictionaries that we regularly check, Merriam-Webster Unabridged, includes the use of “dead” as a verb, and it describes the usage as obsolete.

When used today, the verb “dead” often means to put an end to something, such as those rumors that Kanye West deaded, rather than to kill someone.

However, to “dead” is also used in hip-hop lyrics in reference to an actual killing, and in video games to a virtual killing.

Here’s an example from “Kingdom Come,” a track on a 2006 album of the same name by the American rapper Jay Z:

“I’m so indebted, I should have been deaded / Selling blow in the park, this I know in my heart.”

And this is a Feb. 9, 2013, comment on a discussion board for the multiplayer video game League of Legends:

“I deaded him and won the game and btw – he was countering my spin with…counterstrike.”

The Oxford English Dictionary, a historical dictionary that chronicles the evolution of words, traces the usage back to Old English, where déadian or adéadian meant to become dead, and díędan or dýdan meant to kill.

The OED says the use of “dead” as a verb is now obsolete, but it has literal and figurative examples for the usage from the mid-10th to the late 19th centuries.

The dictionary’s sources include the Lindisfarne Gospels (circa 950), the Wycliffe Bible (sometime before 1382), Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum; or, A Naturall Historie (1626), and the August 1884 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

In the latest citation, from Harper’s, the verb is college slang meaning to stump a student with a difficult question: “Whose … enquiry, ‘What is ethics?’ had deaded so many a promising … student.”

Although standard dictionaries generally list “dead” as an adjective, adverb, or noun, the Dictionary of American Regional English has examples from the early 1600s to the mid-1900s for the verb “dead” used to mean to die or to kill.

The earliest DARE example is from a 1638 entry in the Watertown, MA, records: “Ordered yt whosoever shall dead any Trees up ye Commons … shall pay for every Tree so killed.”

And here’s an example from Negro Myths From the Georgia Coast (1988): “You guine dead a po man. [You’ll die a poor man.]”

Finally, this one is from Scarlet Sister Mary (1928), a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Julia Mood Peterkin: “Sometimes, it [a charm] works backwards as well as forwards, you might be de one to dead.”

We never suspected that the verb “dead” had such a life. Will this old usage become common? We don’t see signs of a significant revival, but only time will tell.

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