Friday, October 31, 2014

"Deader than hell . . ." Everyday Speech #2

"[It] killed him deader than hell." I heard my uncle say this when I was about 15 and changing tires on a dump trunk. He was talking about a fellow who had crawled under a dump truck to remove the jack when the jack failed, and the dump-truck crushed the man. "It killed him deader than hell," my uncle said, finishing the cautionary tale.

So: degrees of death, as if you could be just slightly dead or all the way up to deader than hell. Great vernacular touch there.

I heard it said by many men of my parents' generation. I never heard a woman say it.

I've corresponded with a poet- and publisher-friend in North Carolina who remembers hearing the same phrase, so it's apparently not regional. (My uncle was a native of Indiana, where he drove a car for a boot-legger, among other things, before moving to California to run heavy equipment, etc.)

Probably, it's not a phrase that will survive the Boomer generation, a few of whom might still say it.

A similar but more widespread phrase was, of course, "deader than door-nail," which I never liked because door nails are inanimate. I did, however, like the rhythm and alliteration.




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