"Drowned Alive"

Mon Aug 22 19:32:19 UTC 2005

        The odd thing is that drowning, like other kinds of suffocation,
need not necessarily result in death.  I recall that in 1981, a woman
told me of receiving a telephone call that her daughter had drowned but,
fortunately, was O.K.  "Survived drowning," for example, gets 569 Google
hits, compared to 126 for "drowned alive."   (Of course, many people do
use "drowning" to refer only to drowning incidents that result in

        So "drowned alive" is not necessarily an oxymoron.
Nevertheless, while it is possible to survive being drowned alive, just
as it is possible to survive being buried alive, I daresay that almost
all of those drowned alive were in fact drowned to death.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
Of Arnold M. Zwicky
Sent: Monday, August 22, 2005 12:44 PM
Subject: Re: "Drowned Alive"

On Aug 22, 2005, at 9:07 AM, Barbara Need wrote:

> I don't remember what station or what the program was, but I heard an
> ad for some "news" program which was describing the activities of a
> young man who tied a couple up and then they were "drowned alive".
> Thoughts?

there are a modest number of Google hits for (passive) "drowned alive".

i'd guess that the model is "buried alive", which *is* semantically
compositional, unlike "drowned alive".  the true watery parallel to
"buried alive" would be "Xed alive", for some verb X that means
something like 'hold/confine underwater'.  unfortunately, english seems
to have no such verb.  '"immerse, "submerse", and "submerge"
lack the component of being trapped underwater; immersion etc. can be
brief, temporary.  ("plunge", "dip", and "duck" are explicitly
brief.)  that pretty much leaves "drown", which as a simple transitive
verb with animate objects ("We drowned the witch") entails death (though
there are non-fatal extended senses, as in "We drowned Kim in praise"
and "We accidentally drowned Kim in chocolate sauce").

so "drowned alive" is the best we can do for a compact expression
denoting being held underwater, while (initially) alive, for an extended
period of time -- an event that will eventually result in death, just as
being buried alive will.  alas, "drowned alive" is an oxymoron.  but
that sort of thing doesn't necessarily bother most people.

arnold (zwicky at csli.stanford.edu)

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