"Drowned Alive"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Tue Aug 23 11:47:57 UTC 2005

Compared to the obs. construction "guilty of death," as in Wyclif  (OED, guilty, adj., 4), "drowned alive" is pretty ho-hum.

Especially if you place it in the context of "alive," OED defs. 4 and 5a:

"...sensitive, awake, fully conscious."   1732  Pope... "Tremblingly alive...all over."

"in the active condition which distinguishes life from death..."   1748 Richardson..."She was not so much alive the whole day, if she slept more than six hours."

Not that the writer was thinking of such exx., but they do make "drowned alive" rather less illogical.


Michael McKernan <mckernan at LOCALNET.COM> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Michael McKernan
Subject: Re: "Drowned Alive"

John Baker wrote:

> The odd thing is that drowning, like other kinds of suffocation,
>need not necessarily result in death.... (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.

It's also interesting to note that a dead person cannot (technically)
drown: you have to be alive, in order to breathe in the water or other
fluid which causes drowning. Bodies immersed in fluid post mortem do not
'drown.' So one can't possible be 'drowned dead.'

In light of this, perhaps it is reasonable to consider 'drowned alive' as
approaching tautology rather than oxymoron.

Michael McKernan

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