Printable Version
Pronunciation: ded-beet Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, adjective

Meaning: 1. An idle, feckless loafer, a sponger, a lay-about, sluggard, lazy-bones, a good-for-nothing. 2. (North America) Someone who fails to pay their debts or fulfill other obligations. 3. (Australian) Someone down on their luck.

Notes: Today's compound noun seems oddly at odds with the meanings of its constituents. Deadbeats are certainly alive. which precludes them from being a single stroke of a rhythm or a policeman's round. Deadbeatism and deadbeatness have been floated as nouns from the adjectival use of this word, but seem not to have stuck.

In Play: The most widely used sense is the first above: "Maggie and Ruth are best friends despite the fact that Maggie is a deadbeat with no real job or home and Ruth is a successful attorney." The second sense of this word is often heard in the phrase 'deadbeat dad', a divorced husband who does not keep up with his child-support payments: "Ben Gazzi came home and is trying to make up to his daughter for being a deadbeat dad for all those years."

Word History: "I'm beat" is slang for "I'm exhausted," and "I'm dead beat" means "I'm utterly exhausted." Dead is still an adverb meaning "utterly, extremely" in such phrases as 'dead asleep', 'dead calm', 'dead drunk'. This adverb turned into an adjective, meaning "exhausted, without energy", which became a noun, meaning "someone without will power", hence "worthless". Cousins of dead are found in all Germanic languages: German tot, Dutch dood, Danish død, and Swedish död. It comes from PIE dheu-/dhou- "to faint, die", source also of Latin funus "funeral" and its adjective funeralis "related to a funeral", which English borrowed and trimmed down to funeral. Beat descended from PIE bhau- "to strike", source also of bust and beat, Russian bit' "hit, beat" and Latin fustis "stick, cudgel".

Dr. Goodword,

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