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I am reading a book that states the hero "knew himself to be among the dead". Does this means that he considered himself as good as dead, or that he understood that all the people around him were dead?

Generally, what does "among the dead" means?

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Can you please provide more of the quote (and perhaps the source)? This will help us give you a more accurate answer. by the way, that's a good question based on what you've given us. –  medica Dec 26 '13 at 10:53
sure, it is from Daniel Akst's "St. Burl's Obituary". page 5. –  user60030 Dec 26 '13 at 10:55
The scene is that the protagonist enters a restaurant and understands that everybody in it are dead. –  user60030 Dec 26 '13 at 10:58
Wow! Are they zombies, or have they been killed? A tad more info, please! –  medica Dec 26 '13 at 11:02
No, the protagonist enters his favorite restaurant and he is surprised to see that it's been robbed or lynched. it is quite a realistic novel so no zombies/aliens, more like Italian mafia. unfortunately i have only the first 5 pages of the book, so this is more or less all the information i can give. –  user60030 Dec 26 '13 at 11:17

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

As far as I know, there is no idiomatic usage of "among the dead". It appears to be used in both of the contexts you've provided. In your case, it's that everyone around him is literally dead.

Some quotes:

...those hideous nights when we toss and turn in fever and pain, when we lie, like living men among the dead, staring out into the dark hours that drift so slowly between us and the light. - Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow, Jerome, Jerome K.

If they do not square accounts with me about my cows, I will go down to Hades and shine there among the dead. - Homer, The Odyssey

She did not know any of the names listed among the dead. - Cambridge Dictionary

Naturally, the villagers show up and drive the monster away, and he goes to a graveyard to find solitude among the dead. - a summation of Bride of Frankenstein

There are "dead" idioms, such as, dead as a doornail, dead ringer and over my dead body, but not among the dead.

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Thank you, your answer is very helpful. happy holidays. –  user60030 Dec 26 '13 at 11:41
"among the dead" is an idiom that possibly means those in Hell (or who are going to die soon). Cf. 1 Peter 1:3 Darby, Luke 24:5). –  virmaior Jan 2 at 21:17
@virmaior - there are many examples of among the dead to be found, but none are idiomatic. You might need a Hebrew scholar to ask if this was an idiom at the time. But it is not so today, to my knowledge. Scripture also has a very clear metaphor concerning the sheep and the goats. But, to my knowledge, it is not a metaphor in English usage. –  medica Jan 2 at 21:42
@Susan, why would we need a Hebrew scholar to ask if English from an English bible translation is idiomatic? A very large number of idioms derive from the KJV. "Separating the sheep from the goats" is most definitely an English idiom. –  virmaior Jan 2 at 21:50
I disagree with you, and invite you to study more carefully the meaning of idiom. there are indeed many idioms from the Bible, for example the handwriting on the wall is an idiom, even though the original was hand writing - literally. People don't use it in the literal sense. It has become a true idiom. –  medica Jan 2 at 21:57

I'm not so sure Susan...if the protagonist really did walk into a restaurant and find that it's been robbed, where's the suggestion that he's literally surrounded by dead people? And if he did walk into the restaurant and find, as you suggest, everyone dead, it would be rather clumsy of the narrator if the intention was to repeat that obvious point: 'He knew himself to be among the dead'. Duh.

I think some subtlety is being missed. Does the protagonist feel terribly afraid and unsafe? Is it that the protagonist feels threatened or targeted, so that he feels as good as dead? Or (and this is a stretch), does the protagonist feel 'something die in him' on being faced with such devastation?

I don't know, but I think a deeper reading is required.

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The main character in Daniel Akst's book, Burl Bennett, is an obituary writer. So using the phrase 'be among the dead' at this awkward moment is perhaps more a reflection of his professional capacity. Seeing the dead he might of course also have been fearing for his life, since he was co-owner of the restaurant in question.

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