Etymology
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dead (n.)

Old English, "a dead person; the dead collectively, those who have died," noun use of dead (adj.).  As "the most intense or culminating point" of anything (usually something low, flat, still, or cold, as night, winter) from 1540s. To leave (someone) for dead is from late 14c.

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dead (adv.)

"in a dead or dull manner, as if dead," also "entirely," late 14c., from dead (adj.). As "directly," by 1800.

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dead (adj.)

Middle English ded, from Old English dead "having ceased to live," also "torpid, dull;" of water, "still, standing," from Proto-Germanic *daudaz (source also of Old Saxon dod, Danish død, Swedish död, Old Frisian dad, Middle Dutch doot, Dutch dood, Old High German tot, German tot, Old Norse dauðr, Gothic dauþs "dead"), a past-participle adjective based on *dau-, which is perhaps from PIE *dheu- (3) "to die" (see die (v.)).

Meaning "insensible, void of perception" is from early 13c. Of places, "inactive, dull," from 1580s. Of sound, "muffled," 1520s. Used from 16c. as "utter, absolute, quite" (as in dead drunk, 1590s); from 1590s as "quite certain, sure, unerring;" by 1881 as "direct, straight." Dead heat, a race in which more than one competitor reaches the goal at the same time, is from 1796. The dead-nettle (c. 1400) resembles the nettle but does not sting.

Dead on is 1889, from marksmanship. Dead duck "person defeated or soon to be, useless person" is by 1844, originally in U.S. politics. Dead letter is from 1703, used of laws lacking force as well as uncollected mail. Dead soldier "emptied liquor bottle" is from 1913; the image is older (compare dead men "bottles emptied at a banquet," c. 1700). Dead man's hand in poker, "pair of aces and pair of eights," is supposedly what Wild Bill Hickock held when Jack McCall shot him in 1876. Expression not be (seen/found/caught) dead "have nothing to do with" is by 1915.

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dead-march (n.)

"piece of solemn music played at funerals," c. 1600, from dead + march (n.1).

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dead-center (adj., adv.)

"in the exact middle," 1874, the noun phrase (1836) in reference to lathes or other rotating machinery, meaning the point which does not revolve; see dead (adj.).

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dead-weight (n.)

also deadweight, 1650s, "weight of an inert body," from dead (adj.) + weight (n.). Hence, "a heavy or oppressive burden" (1721).

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dead reckoning (n.)

"ascertaining of the position of a ship by measurement of the distance run" (without observation of heavenly bodies), 1610s, perhaps from nautical abbreviation ded. ("deduced") in log books, but it also fits dead (adj.) in the sense of "unrelieved, absolute."

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brain-dead (adj.)
"suffering complete loss of brain functioning," 1971 (brain death is from 1968), from brain (n.) + dead. Popularized in U.S. 1975 by journalistic coverage of the Karen Anne Quinlan case.
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dead-lift (n.)

1550s, "a pull exerting the utmost effort (of a horse), from dead (adj.) + lift (n.). From 1560s in figurative sense of "a position in which one can do no more;" by 1882 as "an effort involving the whole strength."

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dead end (n.)

"closed end of a passage," 1851 in reference to drainpipes, 1874 in reference to railway lines; by 1886 of streets; from dead (adj.) + end (n.). Figurative use, "course of action that leads nowhere," is by 1914. As an adjective in the figurative sense by 1917; as a verb by 1921. Related: Dead-ended; dead-ending; deadender (by 1996).

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