Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Exaggeration Has Me Killed

Stan Carey, a professional editor from Ireland, writes entertainingly about the English language on his blog Sentence First. Here Stan muses on the word "kill" and a special meaning it has in the colloquial English speech of Ireland.

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has 14 separate entries for the verb kill, and one of these ("Deprive ... of vitality, activity, effect, etc.") seems close to a common colloquial usage in Hiberno-English. It's often heard and seen in the form killed out (with...):

This week has me killed out
After 7 exercises with chest I'm killed out
Its about two in the morning and I'm killed out.
I am killed out with the tiredness

Here killed out means tired, worn out, weary, exhausted; equivalent slang terms are wrecked and destroyed. Altogether is occasionally appended for emphasis ("I'm killed out altogether"), as distinct from the sense "in total" ("20 soldiers were killed altogether"). Hiberno-English killed can also carry a related meaning: of suffering from some affliction, whose effects often include tiredness or weakness:

I'm killed with the sunburn
The heat has me killed
I'm killed with the drought (Francis MacManus, The Man in the Trap)
They're killed with the thirst.
he is killed with the cough (The Coughing Old Man)
I'm killed with the hunger

There's usually an implication that the burden is temporary, or at least non-fatal. I suppose it's a kind of black comic relief that death is not as imminent as the language might suggest — a way of imagining control over it by allusion to it — though that doesn't mean that death doesn't arrive subsequently:

A young man died after injuries received in a row, and his friend says:- 'It is dreadful about the poor boy: they made at him in the house and killed him there; then they dragged him out on the road and killed him entirely, so that he lived for only three days after.' (from P. W. Joyce, English As We Speak It In Ireland)

But the context can also be festive and debauched:

And the two shawls killed with the laughing, picking his pockets, the bloody fool and he spilling the porter all over the bed and the two shawls screeching laughing at one another (James Joyce, Ulysses)

Sometimes the sound and spelling of the word are softened to kilt or kill't:

That was what kilt me! That was what drove the pain into my heart... (Gerald Griffin, The Collegians)
Says Jack Mitchil, "I am kilt! Boys, where's the back door?..." (William Makepeace Thackeray, The Battle of Limerick)
'I'm kilt all over' means that he is in a worse state than being simply 'kilt.' (Maria Edgeworth, Castle Rackrent)
"I'm kill't out with the heat, Mam" (Brian Leyden, The Home Place, cited in Bernard Share, Slanguage)

Whew. I'm kilt out after that. Do you use these expressions, or an equivalent?

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Stan Carey is a scientist turned freelance editor from the west of Ireland. He shares his fascination with language, words and books on his blog, Sentence first, and on Twitter. Stan has a TEFL qualification, a history of polyglottism, and a lifelong love of stories and poetry. He writes articles about the English language for Macmillan Dictionary Blog. Click here to read more articles by Stan Carey.

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Comments from our users:

Friday June 18th 2010, 11:11 AM
Comment by: Valerie P.
I have never heard that expression in Canada. (Thank goodness!) Neither have I heard the expression "Hiberno-English". Must look it up.
Friday June 18th 2010, 1:49 PM
Comment by: Stan Carey (Galway Ireland)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Valerie: I don't know if the expression has any currency outside Ireland. It's used very casually here, and is often laced with self-deprecating humour. Hiberno-English is a slightly academic term for Irish English. I adapted it after falling for Terence Patrick Dolan's wonderful Dictionary of Hiberno-English.
Friday June 18th 2010, 1:49 PM
Comment by: Barra O. (Bray County Wicklow Ireland)
Usage possibly derives from Irish word 'caill' meaning 'lose'.'
'Cailleadh an fear' means 'The man was lost ' but is also a euphemism for 'The man died'. It has been suggested that the expression originated in fishing communities in much the same way as 'lost at sea' is used in english.The verb is pronounced as 'Kyle' which isn't a million miles from the sound 'Kill'.
Friday June 18th 2010, 2:03 PM
Comment by: Stan Carey (Galway Ireland)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Barra: Thanks for that very interesting note. Is it your own hypothesis?

In my previous comment I meant adopted, not adapted; my excuse is that I've been writing all day and I'm kilt out! Also, I intended this Amazon link. There's a short review of Professor Dolan's book here. Unfortunately, the online version of his dictionary (at hiberno-english.com) recently became inaccessible.
Friday June 18th 2010, 3:54 PM
Comment by: Suzanne (Asheville, NC)
Clearly, here is yet more evidence of the superiority of the Irish sense of humor over the US American. I'm familiar with the phrase "you're killing me," uttered by someone who claims to be "dying" of laughter in response to a funny story, but I've never heard it used in these ways. I especially like the sound of being 'kilt all over,' which is sort of how I feel at this moment, at the end of a long week.
Sunday June 20th 2010, 12:37 AM
Comment by: paul C. (nashville, TN)
George Carlin, or another one of the great current comedians, has a routine about the correlation between comedy and death. "I killed 'em, "I really died out there tonight" and a bunch of others.
Tuesday June 22nd 2010, 7:21 AM
Comment by: El (Los Angeles, CA)
And all this time I thought this was ebonics. Now I can use it freely:-)))
Tuesday June 22nd 2010, 8:47 AM
Comment by: Stan Carey (Galway Ireland)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Suzanne: With your help, the phrase could begin to take root in America! I hope you're not feeling so kilt all over, this week.

Paul: That's a good connection. I wonder if it has been investigated. As a child I loved to hear about people "laughing their heads off".

El: You sure can — and if anyone questions it, claim Irish ancestry.
Thursday June 24th 2010, 12:55 PM
Comment by: Suzanne (Asheville, NC)
Paul, but of course! George Carlin was Irish-American.
Thursday August 5th 2010, 3:15 AM
Comment by: David G. (Kassel Germany)
A related term is knackered, which of course refers to the killing of animals.
When my friends and I are tired, or stressed out, we quote Roberto Benigni's description of his pool hall misadventure in Jim Jarmusch's "Down by Law".

"Dead. In the ground."

Thursday August 5th 2010, 2:53 PM
Comment by: Stan Carey (Galway Ireland)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
David: Knackered is a very popular expression in Ireland, and Down by Law is a great film!

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