Die death

A few days ago I posted about the noun life, the verb live and the adjective live, which got me thinking about the noun death, the verb die and the adjective dead. In some ways, these three are easier (for example, there are no overlapping forms like the plural verb and 3sg verb lives (different pronunciations) and the base verb and adjective live (again, different pronunciations), and in other ways they are harder. 

The noun death has the uncountable and countable singular form death and the plural form deaths. The verb die has the forms die, dies, dying (note the change in spelling) and died. The adjective dead has the comparative and superlative forms deader and deadest (which are only ever used metaphorically). 

So far, no great problem. The first problem arises with the derived adjectives deadly and deathly. Despite being dead + ly, deadly is not an adverb, but another adjective. Death + ly is analogous to life + ly > lively. The dictionary definitions of deadly “causing or tending to cause death; fatal; lethal” and deathly “causing death; deadly; fatal” might suggest that they are interchangeable, but Google Ngrams shows that deadly is most often followed by weapon, sin(s), poison, enemy/ies, fire, wound, blow and hatred (that is, usually literal), and deathly by silence, pallor, stillness, fear, paleness, chill, sickness, face, hush and hue (that is, usually metaphorical). Also, while the comparative and superlative forms deadlier and deadliest are rarely used, deathlier and deathliest are almost never used.

The second problem arises in the socio-linguistic use of these words. Do I say “My parents died”, “My parents have died” or “My parents are dead”? I would probably say “My parents have died”. Perhaps more importantly, do I ask “Did your parents die?”, “Have your parents died?” or “Are you parents dead?”. I would probably say “Are your parents still alive?”

The most common other form is deaden, which is only ever used in conjunction with vibrations or sound etc. Some people use dead as a verb and deading as a gerund, usually for comedic effect. The radio program The Goon Show often used “You rotten swine, you! You have deaded me” and “I’m for the dreaded deading this week alright”.

I titled the previous post Live life, which sounds reasonable. The title of this post, Die death, doesn’t, but note Die a (natural, slow, violent, horrible, lingering, miserable, sudden, cruel, shameful, dry) death and Live a (normal, good, long, full, better, holy, new, Christian, godly, quiet) life.


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