It is not all-too-rare to hear of someone being "half-dead," but is that logical, or possible?

If so, how do you determine just how dead, percentage-wise, a person is?

If it's possible to be 50% dead, then it must also be possible to be 7% dead, 42% dead, etc. Or even beyond integers, what about being 3.14% dead?

If that were so, surely medical science would be able to tell you that the patient is "14.3% dead, but stable" (so, if said patient continues in such a condition, he will live forever, but not feel all that chipper), or "37.7% dead, and declining rapidly" or "29.4% dead, but gradually improving" and so on.

Are the old less alive than the young? Is old age a matter of the percentage of aliveness gradually diminishing?

IOW, a person is either alive or dead, right? They are either 100% alive, or 0% alive. Being "half dead" makes no sense. From whence did this oddly even expression originate?

And why is the expression "half dead" instead of "half alive", anyway? Is this an optimist ("glass half full") vs. pessimist ("glass half empty") thing? Would you rather be told you were 14.3% dead ("Dang, I'm 1/7th dead!!! I wonder which 7th?!?") or that you were 85.7% alive ("Hey, I'm 6/7th alive! I pretty much rock!!!")

  • 3
    I think it's more to do with how far down the path of becoming dead you are. If I have been beaten for 2 hours and if the beating continues for another 2 hours I will die then maybe I'm half-dead at the 2 hour mark. But it's usually hyperbole.
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 18:20
  • 15
    Half-dead is just a metaphorical expression that describes someone's exhaustion or weakness.
    – user140086
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 18:21
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    It's qualitative, not quantitative. It's just a way of using hyperbole to make a point that someone is severely injured and likely close to death.
    – Nonnal
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 18:23
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    I recall a TV documentary piece on brain surgery performed when the patient's blood had been cooled to the point that his heart stopped and his brain exhibited no electrical activity. The reporter asked the surgeon whether the patient was dead. The surgeon said, "It depends on whether he wakes up when we re-warm his blood."
    – deadrat
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 19:12
  • 17
    Is anyone else having Princess Bride quotes going through their head right now? "He's only mostly dead. If he were all dead there's only one thing to do. Go through his pockets and look for loose change."
    – cobaltduck
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 19:39

4 Answers 4


Much of the power of English is in its ability to be enhanced and empowered by metaphor. You are advocating the abolishment of metaphor, a step which would leave the English language half dead.

  • 3
    You're assuming it's not already half dead. Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 21:02
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    @martin - No, language death is only additive, not multiplicative.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 23:19
  • 6
    @martin - books.google.com/…
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 23:31
  • 4
    @HotLicks well, I have to hand it to you, I didn't expect that!
    – martin
    Commented Dec 10, 2015 at 23:32
  • 2
    @Ascendant - Yep. By one account a language dies every 14 days.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 1:57

To answer your latter question, it has more to do with point of reference than optimism vs. pessimism. I know many optimists and many pessimists, but I have rarely heard half-alive.

We are all alive--that is, all of us who are creating speech and using expressions like half-dead or half-alive are currently alive. To say we are half-alive does not create the same internal juxtaposition of the speaker's status, than if the speaker said half-dead. We're more used to being around people who are alive - at least most of us - so half-dead serves to better capture someone's attention.

  • 1
    isn't half-alive this funny game with Dr. Gordon Freeman, who works at the Black Mesa Research Facility? ;-)
    – sschrass
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 14:47
  • 1
    @SatelliteSD Then there's the groundbreaking sequel "alive". Everybody is still waiting for "alive-and-a-half".
    – DJMcMayhem
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 15:06

I believe it is a right question in a wrong forum. Everything can't be quantified in digits. Certain things are more experienced and felt then logically put across in an equation.There are layers to a person, not just internally, but also externally: This is the aura and the seven fields which form a part of a human body. When there is too much damage to these levels,( why that happens, is another in-depth discussion) the outer aura which 'holds' the inner being safe and enclosed, is damaged.Then there is another aspect: These are soul fragments which get lost when we attach ourselves to something too deeply and can't pull back sometimes.Those also leave us feeling 'partly dead' because that fragment of your soul which was a part of you, now is invested deeply in a relationship, person, cause etc.. which over takes you so much, it takes precedence over all of your existence and anything else in your life. Sometimes in very rare cases, and though this is not a direct answer to the question, but there are instances when the auric field is so damaged, external energies come imbalance and 'take over' which leaves the person feeling groggy, confused and not feeling like 'himself', and one often proclaims, the real me feels 'dead'. So yes, it is possible to feel 'half dead'.But the way to know about this deeper, is to know yourself and go deeper and gain knowledge on these subjects if a literal search is the seek.

  • "soul fragments which get lost when we attach ourselves to something too deeply" - this puts me in mind of Ben Jonson's poem "On My First Son" Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 15:38

Are we to ignore the great difference between 'not all-too-rare' which doesn't and 'not too rare' which could fit here, please?

Either way, there might be 37 ways of classifying someone as half dead including, for a trite example, chop off two limbs and extract every other internal organ… perform a partial lobotomy, if you need to make up the weight.

More usefully, medical writers like https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=lyall+watson+the+romeo+error&rlz=1C5CHFA_enGB718GB718&oq=lyall+watson+the+romeo+error&aqs=chrome..69i57.10119j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 have been telling us for a good 40 years that two things don't work.

No definition of life doesn't include several things 'everyone knows' are dead and much more importantly here…

No definition of death doesn't include several things 'everyone knows' are alive…

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