dying a death

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Jan 20 01:40:46 UTC 2010

At 3:58 PM -0800 1/19/10, Benjamin Barrett wrote:
>On Jan 19, 2010, at 2:50 PM, Robin Hamilton wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the
>>mail header -----------------------
>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>  Poster:       Robin Hamilton <robin.hamilton2 at BTINTERNET.COM>
>>  Subject:      Re: dying a death
>>>  I tend to react with curiosity rather than prescriptivism to expressions
>>>  I find unfamiliar. And "dying a death" jumped at me as
>>>  tautological--something that a Russian speaker would refer to as
>>>  "?????-????????" ("maslo maslianoe"--buttered butter).
>>>  A quick search revealed a number of similar recent uses, including a
>>>  2006 "Dying a death" paper by a Latrobe University researcher Allan
>>>  Kellehear.
>>         [SNIP]
>>>  It looks like mostly British use, the Australian paper (published in
>>>  Tokyo) notwithstanding. I checked GB and could find not one example that
>>>  was unmodified (or was not a false positive due to ignored punctuation),
>>>  so it is strictly recent UK periodicals, blogs and comments of recent
>>>  vintage. A snowclone in the making?
>  >>
>>>     VS-)
>>  Sounds like a recent variant of the phrase (or cliché) "dying the death" or
>>  "died the death".  (1,610,000 goggle hits for "dying the death" vs. 375,000
>>  for "dying a death".)  Usually something which expires slowly, never the
>>  literal sense of death, and possibly connected with the showbiz use of
>>  talking about a play or show dying when it bombs.
>>  The original is so familiar in the UK that I wouldn't have thought twice if
>>  I came on it, and confronted by "dying a death," I'd think it was someone
>>  trying to be clever and extend the original slightly.
>>  Strange that it doesn't run in America -- is there a USA equivalent?
>>  Robin
>I think an adjective makes it much more acceptable, particularly "slow:"
>My car died a slow death
Or "he died a good death".  This is a standard
feature of so-called cognate objects, which are
fine when the cognate object (one whose meaning
is contained with, or implied by, an otherwise
intransitive verb) is modified and odd when
they're not.  Not always ("They danced a dance"
isn't that bad), but often:  "I slept a peaceful
sleep" vs. ?"I slept a sleep", etc.  I've always
assumed it's related to why you can be
brown-haired or green-eyed but not haired or
(relevantly) eyed, although admittedly those are
worse.  Interesting that UK speakers allow the
unmodified version for "dying a death".



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

More information about the Ads-l mailing list