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I wonder whether 'dead on arrival' is slang or not.

I searched the phrase in Google Scholar and found many articles with this phrase especially in a medical context. So I guess it may not be a slang.

On the other hand, if I bought an electronic device and it is already broken when I opened the box, I can say it is DOA. I wonder if this expression can be used in a formal context, for example, in an academic article about electrical engineering.

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    It's an idiom so it wouldn't be used in a formal text or statement.
    – AbduRahman
    Oct 11, 2022 at 7:07
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    All of the above comments are answers. Please do not answer in comments. The question just hangs around unsolved.
    – Andrew Leach
    Oct 11, 2022 at 8:24
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    Slangs aren't things. Slang is not a count noun. You cannot have a slang. You can only have slang expressions.
    – tchrist
    Oct 11, 2022 at 12:27
  • Hello, 672. M-W clearly lists the metaphorical usage, without flagging as slang. Oct 11, 2022 at 18:55
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    Potential answers should address 'dead on arrival' vs its abbreviation DOA. eg "The abbreviation DOA is informal and should not be used in academic writing. The full phrase is a bit too metaphorical for a technical area like electrical engineering, and too much of a cliche in more humanities directed language."
    – Mitch
    Oct 13, 2022 at 17:14

3 Answers 3

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Dead on arrival is not slang when used in its proper sense in the medical context.

We speak of an electrical device being metaphorically 'dead' when it doesn't work, but it would not be advisable to use dead on arrival in this sense in an academic article.

(By the way, a word is slang or a slang expression, but not a slang.)

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    I did a quick search of news sources, and it seems to be used in political reporting (which is an area that loves slang and metaphor and neologisms), and of course in medicine, but not much outside of those fields.
    – Stuart F
    Oct 13, 2022 at 18:48
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As Kate Bunting's answer suggests, "dead on arrival" can be understood as a technical term with a particular meaning. Whether that disqualifies it from being viewed as slang, however, is not entirely clear.

J.E. Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994) has no entry for the phrase "dead on arrival" (although it does have one for "dead on one's feet" and another for "dead from the neck up." The obvious difference between "dead on arrival" and those other two phrases is that "dead on arrival" uses "dead" in a literal sense rather than in figurative sense such as "exhausted" or "extremely stupid."

But Lighter does have an entry for "D.O.A.," as follows:

D.O.A. v. Police. to die before arrival at a hospital emergency room [Examples from 1975 omitted].

So, according to Lighter, "dead on arrival" is not slang, but "D.O.A." is.

Robert Chapman & Barbara Kipfer, Dictionary of American Slang, third edition (1995) takes a somewhat different tack, addressing the figurative sense of the phrase and treating it as slang:

dead on arrival adj phr by 1980s Invalid and rejected: The President's budget was dead on arrival even before it got to Congress

The fourth edition of this dictionary (2007) changes the entries header from "dead on arrival" to "dead on arrival or DOA" but otherwise is identical to the 1995 entry. That edition also includes a separate entry for "DOA":

DOA (pronounced as separate letters) adj Dead on arrival n : Don't risk being a DOA by driving drunk

The most notable thing about this entry is that there is no indication that the implied "dead" in DOA is being used figuratively rather than literally.

Like Lighter, Jonathon Green, Cassell's Dictionary of Slang, second edition (2005) has an entry for "d.o.a." but not for "dead on arrival." Green defines the noun form of the initialism as an unmistakably slangy term from drug culture, but he presents the verb form of the initialism (as Lighter does) in a literal sense:

d.o.a. n. (drugs) 1 {1970s+} phencyclidine (cf. ACE n.4). 2 {1980s} crack cocaine (cf. BASE n.) 3 {1980s+} a street name for a variety of heroin. {orig. police jargon dead on arrival}

d.o.a. v. {1970s+} to die before one arrives at a hospital. {orig. police jargon dead on arrival; i.e. its potentially fatal effects}

There is no obvious referent for "its" in the second definition; indeed, it seems as though the comment "i.e. its potentially fatal effects ought to have been appended to the origin note for the noun entry, not the one for the verb entry.

Tom Dalzell & Terry Victor, The New Partridge Dictionary of Sang and Unconventional English (2006) provides twin entries for "dead on arrival" and "DOA" that refer exclusively to the drug meanings—heroin and phencyclidine (PHP)—noted by Green.

And finally, Tony Thorne, Dictionary of Contemporary Slang,fourth edition (2014) has an entry for "D.O.A" but not for dead on arrival":

D.O.A. adj. unconscious, inert. A facetious use of the American police and hospital jargon 'dead on arrival' to mean 'dead to the world, particularly after taking drugs or alcohol.

So depending on which authority you consult, "dead on arrival" (or "DOA" or both) may be police slang even when used in a literal sense; or it may be police or hospital jargon when used literally; or it may be slang when used in the sense of "invalid or rejected" or in a drug sense, or in a facetious way to refer to being unconscious after a bout of drinking or drug taking.

At the computer magazines where I worked for a couple of decades (from 1995 to 2014), writers regularly used the term "DOA" to refer to an electronic device that was utterly nonfunctional when taken out of its packaging for testing. I concur with Kate Bunting, however, that the tone of that usage is a poor match for the tone of most academic writing. I would be less inclined to reject "dead on arrival" out of hand, however, because it isn't by any means an inaccurate way to describe out-of-the-box nonfunctionality and it arguably avoids the flippant or unduly informal edge that "DOA" might have for some readers.

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  • I don't think D.O.A is slang. It is merely the abbreviation used for dead on arrival.
    – Lambie
    Oct 17, 2022 at 16:10
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Agencies that monitor and oversee hospitals calculate death rates. A body that arrives dead does not enter the hospital’s statistics. “Dead” in this case is literal, not unconscious from a drug overdose or whatever. See, as just one example, https://data.chhs.ca.gov/dataset/california-hospital-inpatient-mortality-rates-and-quality-ratings.

Beyond that,”dead on arrival” is used metaphorically, to apply, for example, to a budget sent to Congress by the President that will supposedly not receive serious consideration. A similar phrase for a proposal that will not receive serious consideration is “That dog won’t hunt.” Or more simply, an idea that is a “non-starter.”

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