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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Saturday, November 01, 2008


I'm sorry for the tactlessness of following two obituaries with this post, but no offence is intended.

One of those apparent tautologies of Dylan's, "to kill me dead", has a long history, I learnt this week (from WorldWideWords, a weekly e-newsletter about word usage):

This comes from Arnold Zwicky, Visiting Professor of Linguistics at Stanford University: "We had a discussion of the construction [of 'kill me dead'] on the American Dialect Society's mailing list in April, in which it was pointed out that the Oxford English Dictionary's entry for 'kill' has a subentry for 'kill to death' and 'kill dead' with citations from 1362, c1400, 1614, 1670, 1700, and 1882, so it's not a recent development. A Google search will get you a huge pile of examples, including the famous slogan for the bug spray Raid: 'kills bugs dead!' Professor Laurence Horn noted that in some languages causative verbs such as 'kill' require an explicit adverb or secondary verb that indicates the result, such as 'to death'. He hadn't thought English could work like that, but conceded it obviously can."

(On the title track from Dylan's 1981 album Shot Of Love, he sings that "What I got ain't painful, it's just bound to kill me dead / Like the men that followed Jesus when they put a price upon His head. I need a shot of love...")


Anonymous ams210 said...

Isn't the phrase also Dylan's way of contrasting himself with Jesus, who was killed, but not killed dead? Thinking this might be the case has almost made me want to listen to that song again...

9:25 am  
Anonymous NigelH said...

Does "Whenever someone around him died and was dead" from RED RIVER SHORE come in to the same category of emphasis of the deadness of someone or is just an example of sloppy, line-filling, writing? DISCUSS

1:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

It's interesting that you have mentioned the 'kill me dead' line. The last couple of days, following your post on 1-disc versions of Tell Tale Signs, I tried compiling my own version. Thought it would be a fun thing to do. Turns out that it wasn't. I ended up bored by most of the performances. Anyway, I began to lose heart at the point Red River Shore was crossed off the list. The reason was that I dread the clunking last verse, especially the line: "Whenever someone around him died and was dead". Dylan's talking about Jesus here too, of course. "Kill me dead" seems to work in the way that "final end" or "finishing end" work. "Died and was dead" just seems like a line that needed rewriting.

Best wishes,


4:28 pm  

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