I was listening to the song "I'll be there for you" by The Rembrandts and I realised that at the beginning they say: "Your love life's D.O.A."

I used Google to search the meaning of D.O.A. and according to Wikipedia: "[it] is a term used to indicate that a patient was found to be already clinically dead upon the arrival of professional medical assistance, often in the form of first responders such as emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or police."

My question is...do English native speakers use this expression to say that something is really bad (e.g. your love life)? How common is it?

Thank you so much for your answers.

  • I've heard this in the hospital context but I wouldn't say it's common to use it elsewhere, either as intials or in full.
    – Mynamite
    Apr 5, 2013 at 22:43
  • 2
    While not common, I believe it's understood to mean "dead on arrival" by the average person - just basing that on how often one hears it on TV just as "DOA", not the full spoken version. Apr 5, 2013 at 22:55
  • It's a too easy, and therefore cliche, metaphor. 'X is dead on arrival' = 'X was not viable even before things started'.
    – Mitch
    Apr 6, 2013 at 0:20

2 Answers 2


Outside the specific medical and military meanings, D.O.A. is sometimes used in everyday speech to predict the failure of something, often before it gets started or arrives, or when something was utterly unsuccessful.

I searched Twitter and most results were doa in other languages. In English, one was predicting mobile phone sales would be unsuccessful:

@jaylysf: $BBRY @BlackBerry I love articles saying future Z10 sales r uncertain Of course it's uncertain it's the FUTURE They were CERTAIN it was DOA

Another predicted an unsuccessful budget:

@opfalcons51: This is all a game. The President's budget is DOA and he knows its. He is just trying to show just how unresonable the GOP really is.


@LivingProdigy_2: Gone say a prayer for all those all UofR getting ready for Pig Roast tomorrow! Mine last year was DOA!!


@thegauntlet: Why Black Sabbath's Album Should Be DOA goo.gl/fb/j0eGt


@ethanklapper: If the number of senators supporting gay marriage hits 60, will there be legislation? Obviously it's DOA in the House, but symbolic.


@cyndeehaydon: @MadelineAGreen's local service is DOA @ VerizonSupport - she needs HELP asap thx via @cyndeehaydon

And finally:

@jwbrown1969: Senate Democrat’s gun ban Bill S.649 DOA: Stockman moves to automatically kill Senate gun ban Apr 2, 2013 Pres... bit.ly/12nmVsL

One was the medical use:

NYCityAlerts: Queens: Rockaway Beach Blvd & Beach 40 St. NYPD reporting body found DOA near a trailer. Homicide squad enroute. Active crime scene. NY02

Others referred to the film or band of the same name, or the song lyrics.

  • 1
    @choster: Yes, two of the eight tweets above are about DOA legislation, and a third is also political (president's budget).
    – Hugo
    Apr 5, 2013 at 23:31
  • Twitter would be atypical of common usage for acronyms and abbreviations. Its 140 character limitation virtually guarantees that users will employ textspeak in their messages, regardless of how widely used the terms might be used outside of the SMS and twitter services. Apr 6, 2013 at 0:44
  • @Jim: I disagree the 140 limit "virtually guarantees" textspeak, but point taken, there will be a bias. This Google Groups/Usenet shows it used with legislature/bill where there is no 140 limit. Of course, typed language produces more abbreviations, but I expect less than with Twitter. And here's a COCA search.
    – Hugo
    Apr 6, 2013 at 6:12

DOA or "dead on arrival" traditionally is the official terminology used by the trauma center where a victim is received. Trauma centers (emergency rooms) are where the official pronouncement (declaration) of death is made by the attending physician, and it is pronounced at the time the victim arrives at the facility. Hence "dead on arrival".

When victims are "pronounced dead at the scene", then they died before they could begin transportation from the location where they are found.

Similarly DOA is an emphatic slang expression that is often used to describe objects, documents, and concepts:

An object is DOA when it is deemed not functional at the time it is received.

An idea or concept is DOA when it fails to receive acceptance while it is in its nascent state or condition.

A document (such as a legislative bill) is DOA when it is received but deemed by the recipient to be unacceptable (for whatever reason).

When something is DOA, it is hopeless from the onset. So when I hear that someone's love life is DOA, I would assume that means it got of to a (very) bad beginning.

Both the term DOA or the expression "dead on arrival" are used so frequently in the American news (mostly in the literal sense but frequently in the figurative sense), that I would expect most people here to understand its figurative meaning. I have never run across someone who looked confused when the term was used in front of them.

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