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'She was still in love with her husband; frequently she glanced at him with furtive wistfulness. She was able to enjoy the summer weather. She was not quite dead to the common phenomena of the roadside. But the last resistances of departing youthfulness and vivacity against the narcotic of a dull, unlovely domesticity were taking place. In a year or two she would be the typical matron of the Lower middle-class.'

A Man From the North, Arnold Bennett.

[Split off from this question, which originally asked about both "dead to" and "roadside".]

What does dead to {something} mean? Internet research brings up:

  • "dead to the world" meaning "sound asleep"
  • "dead to rights" meaning "in the act, guilty without question"
  • "dead to me" meaning "as far as I'm concerned, we are no longer friends (or family). In my mind, it's as if you are dead"

None of these seem relevant to the quoted context.

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    In this case, "dead to" = "oblivious to". This works with both "dead to the world" and, arguably, with "dead to me" - "as if you no longer exist". – TrevorD Dec 21 '16 at 14:51
  • @TrevorD - If you can find some research and turn that into an answer I'd be very happy. – AndyT Dec 21 '16 at 14:54
  • I had had a quick look in a couple of dictionaries, but didn't find anything useful! – TrevorD Dec 21 '16 at 14:56
  • It's context-specific, as your own post shows. It can range from obliviousness to extending persona non grata. – Slacklord the Terrible Dec 21 '16 at 18:46
  • @Axelrod - I asked the question because I couldn't find any definition which covered the usage in this context. You'll note the tag "meaning-in-context", which means the question is looking for the meaning in the quoted context; it's fairly obvious that there will be different meanings in other contexts. – AndyT Dec 22 '16 at 9:13
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The phrase dead to usually means

unconscious of, doesn't pay attention to, doesn't understand/recognize, etc.

that are derived from the meaning, 1.2 definition of Oxford Online Dictionary

Lacking emotion, sympathy, or sensitivity

For example:

Are we dead?--dead to blame or praise? Dead to fashion and human opinion? Dead so that we have no itch for recognition? Dead so that we do not squirm if another gets praised for a thing that we engineered?

[Source: Dead to the World by MinistryToday]

She was not quite dead to the common phenomena of the roadside

means she knows about/recognizes/understands the common phenomena of the roadside.

Dead to shame means shameless and there could be many expressions.

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"To be dead to {something}" means to not be aware of it (or in @TrevorD's words: "oblivious to it"). This is actually used in the researched phrase "dead to the world", where the person who is asleep is so solidly asleep that they are not aware of the world*.

In the quoted context the phrase is modified with "not quite", which implies that she was once fully aware of something, and is perhaps becoming less aware of it, but still retains some awareness. Hence the phrase in context can be understood as:

"She was {still aware of} the common phenomena of the roadside."

Unfortunately I can't find any research to back this up, anyone who does find some is welcome to post a better answer!


'* Credit to @JOSH for this research:

Dead to the world: The proper meaning of dead to the world is a religious one, describing the state of someone who has left worldly things to dedicate themself to God. As Wordsworth put it, 'A few Monks, a stern society, Dead to the world and scorning earth-born joys' (Cuckoo at Laverana, 1837). It can still be found in modern English used in this way: 'Henceforth, like St Paul, she was dead to the world and alive only to God' (The English Mystics of the 14th Century, 1991). However, by the late 19th century, the expression was also being used to mean 'unconscious' and from there, it was but a short step to the commonest modern sense of 'deeply asleep'.

Potentially, then, the meaning of "dead to" meaning "unaware of / oblivious to" has stemmed from a common misunderstanding of "dead to the world".


Note that this meaning is not relevant in either "dead to rights" or in "dead to {someone}".

In "dead to rights", "dead" is an adjective not a verb, meaning "absolutely, without doubt".

In "dead to {someone}", the {someone} pretends that the other person is dead.

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    You should specify that this only applies to the specific text you quoted. This answer will not apply to all forms of "Dead to something" – Hank Dec 21 '16 at 14:55
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    Dead to the world: The proper meaning of dead to the world is a religious one, describing the state of someone who has left worldly things to dedicate themself to God. As Wordsworth put it, 'A few Monks, a stern society, Dead to the world and scorning earth-born joys' (Cuckoo at Laverana, 1837). It can still be found in modern English used in this way: 'Henceforth, like St Paul, she was dead to the world and alive only to God' (The English Mystics of the 14th Century, 1991). ..... – user66974 Dec 21 '16 at 15:27
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    ...... However, by the late 19th century, the expression was also being used to mean 'unconscious' and from there, it was but a short step to the commonest modern sense of 'deeply asleep'. – user66974 Dec 21 '16 at 15:28
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    I would modify the definition oblivious/unaware of (something) in favor of unresponsive/insensitive to (something). "She was not quite dead to the common phenomena of the roadside" doesn't just mean she was still aware of them, but that she could still enjoy them a little -- as supported by the parallel statement "She was able to enjoy the summer weather." – LarsH Dec 21 '16 at 19:21
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    @JOSH - Thanks for the research, very useful. I've now incorporated it. – AndyT Dec 23 '16 at 9:17
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From the context, it seems like this phrase is equivalent to the more common "numb to":

She was able to enjoy the summer weather. She was not quite numb to the common phenomena of the roadside.

This meaning of numb is:

  1. lacking or deficient in emotion or feeling; indifferent: She was numb to their pleas for mercy.

If she is dead/numb to the common phenomena of the roadside, she may be aware of it, but it doesn't make her feel anything. That lack of feeling/enjoyment seems to be what the passage indicates she's slipping into.

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