Quick meaning alive (was: Heard on NFL Blackhawks vs. Redwings)

Benjamin Barrett gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM
Sat Jan 2 07:11:14 UTC 2010

On Dec 30, 2009, at 11:36 PM, David Bowie wrote:

> From:    Benjamin Barrett <gogaku at IX.NETCOM.COM>
>> On Dec 29, 2009, at 7:17 AM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
>>> At 12/29/2009 12:19 AM, Seán Fitzpatrick wrote:
>>>> FWIW, in 1966 at Ft. Bragg, our bayonet instructor informed us
>>>> that there are only two kinds of bayonet fighters:  the quick and
>>>> the dead.
>>> Clear proof that modern usage is not limited to the literary
>>> effete.
>> The question here is actually how many people get the "alive"
>> meaning. The intended meaning is adequately powerful without it.
>> I was born in the year that usage occurred, and, had I not been
>> primed by this thread, I doubt I would have gotten the "live" meaning
>> in, say, a movie. Probably not in casual conversation, either. If an
>> OE prof had used it, probably so, though still maybe not if I hadn't
>> have my coffee yet.
> For what it's worth, i was born later (1970), and it took a few readings
> before i could figure out why this was all noteworthy, and that there
> might be a pun there--when i hear "the quick and the dead", "quick"
> simply *must* mean "alive" to me, and it took an immense effort to see
> the possibility of anything else.
> I can't imagine getting that meaning for "quick" in any other phrase,
> though--but such is the power of idiom.
> ("Quicken" to mean "make alive", on the other hand, i've been caught
> using that one a couple times.)

Tonight, I asked two West Coasters in their mid-40s if they understood the LA joke. Both said they did, but on further questioning, neither understood that "quick" means "alive." Once they knew that, one commented that there was a movie ("Quickening ??" or "Quickened ??") whose title then made sense.

AFAIK, this meaning is now restricted to "the quick and the dead." Since there is no other usage to inform people of the meaning "alive," this expression can propagate itself only through explicit education (in an educational setting or a book). It therefore seems appropriate to refer to this as being a moribund expression.

Benjamin Barrett
Seattle, WA

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list