Exaggeration has me killed

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?


[This article also features on the Visual Thesaurus.]

19 Responses to Exaggeration has me killed

  1. Now that is not a use of Killed I’ve heard in a long time Stan

  2. absurdoldbird says:

    As I’m not Irish, no – but would any of this have to do with Keel? ie, keeled over sounds a lot like killed does in this non-expiration context – toppled, offbalance.

    Personally, right at the moment, I’m miaowed with the heat…

  3. wisewebwoman says:

    Personally, “kilt” is a more charming way of eating dirt.
    “Killed” is too harsh for me altogether.

  4. Yvonne says:

    I love exaggeration for its verbal exuberance, theatricality and playfulness. One is meant to enjoy the exaggeration, I think. My favourite is “I’m kilt dead”.

    The main topics which encourage exaggeration in Ireland seem to relate to dhrink, the weather/temperature, work and health.

  5. Claudia says:

    Kilt is a new word for me. My favourite way of dying is à-la-James Joyce. “Laughter is killing me.” Which is just a translation of “J’me meurs de rire”.
    Hope it happens that way, at the right time, with the right people. And hope laughter lasts all eternity.

  6. Sean Jeating says:

    I am coming to think of that while Irish would feel kilt the Scottish would wear one.

    Exaggerating now and then is a fine thing. People exaggerating in every second sentence are – to put it mildly: boring.

  7. Stan says:

    Jams: It might be coming back in vogue!

    absurdoldbird: The words do sound very alike — enough to earn a place in the Eggcorn Database — but keel over comes from the nautical noun keel: a long piece of wood or metal running along the base of a boat. So when a boat capsizes, it goes keel up.

    WWW: Kilt definitely has a gentler sound, or even a jauntier one.

    Yvonne: Nicely put. I’m fond of exaggeration too — to play, not mislead. The topics you mention are national obsessions and therefore need exaggeration (or at least storytelling talent) to keep them interesting! I’ve made notes for another post or two on exaggeration. We’ve a fine tradition of it in Ireland.

    Claudia: Another way of saying it is: “dying with laughter” or “dying laughing”. I can hardly think of a better way to go. And speaking of which, if you haven’t seen this comedy skit by Monty Python, you might enjoy it…

    Sean: If it was made from particularly heavy material, you might be kilt from wearing the kilt. Your point is a good one: exaggeration is, like cursing, best not overdone.

  8. Tim says:

    No, I don’t recall ever having used the word “kill” in such an uncommon way. This is the first time I’ve come across the expression “killed out” — although, I do recall having come across the term “kilt”, used in place of killed; possibly not realising it may not have actually meant that someone was dead.

    I sometimes use the term “wasted” to mean that I am utterly fatigued, rather than to mean drunk.

    On a similar note, I find it intriguing that we use different slang terms and colloquialisms in our different English-speaking cultures. Just last night I used the word “legend” to mean cool or awesome (ie. “Flight of the Conchords are so legend”). I was speaking to an American and a Canadian and funnily enough, the American had only just come across that word in such a context two days earlier, from the mouth of a Brit. NZ and Britain have more things in common than we sometimes realise; and yet many differences as well.

  9. Stan says:

    Tim: I’ve heard wasted used to mean exhausted, but only rarely: it more often denotes drunkenness here. At least the context would usually make it clear which is intended.

    Legend appears in Irish English slang too, but normally in noun form, e.g. “He’s such a legend” or “That show is a total legend”. No Venn diagram could encapsulate the overlaps and differences between the slang usages of different forms of English!

  10. ALiCe__M says:

    All this killing business is new to me, particularly “kill out”, which is really like, because it sounds very funny, like a lethal radicalism.

  11. ALiCe__M says:

    “which *I* really like”, sorry

  12. Stan says:

    Alice: It’s sometimes spoken humorously, too. Lethal radicalism sounds like a headful — one lecture and I would be killed out.

  13. iano says:

    I’m tickled pink by this lark. It’s a wonder anything gets done when you take time to observe linguistics in action. It slays me everytime and me half m’y’therd and pure kilt with th’busy… Thanks Stan!

  14. Stan says:

    You’re welcome, Iano — thanks for the visit! Linguistics in action can be fierce distracting, even to an amateur like me, and slang is among its most lively corners.

  15. Liam says:

    While I’ve heard my cousins using kill that way (north Donegal, Cavan, Dublin City) over in the States, it’s usually dead. Dead wrong, dead with hunger, dead with the flu. Or sometimes, half-dead, when maybe you drag yourself into work if you really had to.

  16. Stan says:

    Liam: Some of those seem closely related all right. I wonder if there are equivalents in other languages. Occasionally I use dead as an intensifier (“You’re dead right”), but in the other sense I’m much more likely to use killed.

  17. […] out, busy out, tired out, sound out, hardy out, clever out, handy out, cute out, proud out, killed out. “Is he any trouble? Ah no, he’s easy out.” The out serves as a mild intensifier and […]

  18. […] characteristically Irish English use of till, while the following exchange has a popular Irish idiom of exaggeration: […]

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