Green’s Dictionary of Slang

deadbeat adj.

[dead adv. + SE beaten]

1. absolutely defeated.

[UK]Hereford Jrnl 2 Oct. 3/4: Molineaux was dead beat and only fought to encounter Cribb’s death-like blows .
[UK] T. Jones ‘The True Bottom’d Boxer’ in Egan Bk of Sports (1832) 74/1: And will ne’er say enough, till he’s downright deadbeat.
[UK]Punch IX:63: The general opinion is that the Premier is dead beat.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 31 Jan. 3/1: Mr. Walker's horse was evidently, even at this stage of the race, dead beat, and could hardly raise a gallop.

2. worn out, exhausted [note Egan, Life in London (1821): ‘“Dead beat!” or “beat to a stand still!” Common phrases in the Sporting World, when a man or horse is so completely exhausted from over-exertion, or the constitution breaking down, as to give up the object in view, not being able to pursue it any further’].

[UK]Egan Life in London (1869) 114: Logic was at length [...] so dead beat as to be compelled to cry for quarter.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict.
[UK]Kendal Mercury (Cumbria) 14 Dec. n.p.: He ‘broke down,’ and resigned the contest, evidently ‘dead beat’.
[UK]Dickens Martin Chuzzlewit (1995) 295: ‘I wish you would pull off my boots for me,’ said Martin, dropping into one of the chairs. ‘I am quite knocked up. Dead beat.’.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 31 Jan. 2/4: He was ‘dead beat’ [...] from his incessant exertions.
[UK]G.A. Sala Gaslight and Daylight 49: I saw no face [...] but in which I could read Ragged and Tired – Dead Beat – Utterly Destitute – Houseless and Hungry.
[UK]T. Hughes Tom Brown at Oxford (1880) 165: Drysdale was always dead beat at the Gut, and just like a log in the boat.
[US]Appleton’s Journal (N.Y.) 29 Jan. 133: Longfellow has given us the exact meaning here by translating the words ben vinto, ‘dead beat’.
[UK]Bristol Mercury 19 Apr. 6/4: A man I had known [...] was ‘dead beat’ trying to live on ‘Rotgut’ whiskey or ‘chained lightning’ without eating anything.
[UK]G.R. Sims Three Brass Balls 68: My old ’omen’s dead beat, and she ain’t had a wink.
[Aus]‘Rolf Boldrewood’ Robbery Under Arms (1922) 31: I’ve seen a stockrider, when all the horses were dead beat [...] jump off and turn his horse loose.
[UK]Devizes & Wilts Gaz. 9 Jan. 5/5: Although their fox is dead beat [...] the ground is so crisp with the frost that scent [...] totally fails, and they have to to give up.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Hungerford’ in Roderick (1972) 106: We saw one of the storekeepers give a deadbeat swagman five shillings’ worth of rations.
[US]D. Runyon ‘The Defence of Strikerville’ in From First To Last (1954) 23: My scouts [...] comes in, their horses dead beat.
[Aus]‘Henry Handel Richardson’ Aus. Felix (1971) 13: Give us a drink, old boy! . . . I’m dead-beat!
[US]‘Max Brand’ Rustlers of Beacon Creek (1935) 58: They were dead-beat by the work of the day.
[UK]R. Westerby Wide Boys Never Work (1938) 75: The car was dead-beat.
[UK]G. Kersh Night and the City 19: You look dead beat.
[UK]‘Henry Green’ Loving (1978) 173: I’m dead beat I am.
[UK]A. Sillitoe Sat. Night and Sun. Morning 125: I didn’t get out for a single drink, I was so dead beat.
[UK]Guardian G2 7 July 22: They’ve even brought back deadbeat ex-cop Mike Roberts.
[UK]R. Milward Man-Eating Typewriter 185: ‘You look deadbeat, brother’.

3. useless, ne’er-do-well, impoverished.

[UK]Pierce Egan’s Life in London 15 Oct. 716/2: [T]he rogue and the honest man, the man of law and the lawless man; overfatted plenty and starving honesty, the regular swell cove to the dead-beat chum.
[US]Dly Astorian (OR) 18 Oct. 2/1: The ignorant [...] dead beat whisky bloat, backwoods bummer.
[US]E. Nye Baled Hay 65: Whenever a dead-beat poet strikes bedrock and don’t have shekels enough to buy a bowl of soup.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 31 Mar. 23/1: As a matter of fact some politicians long ago contemplated imposing a heavy poll-tax on dead-beat baronets and other stumped sections of the old nobility.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘Ah Dam’ in Roderick (1972) 797: The derelict and the dead-beat, working their way over at the tail of a friendly cart.
[US]Wash. Times (DC) 9 Jan. 37/3: [cartoon caption] Dead Beat, Return my fifty cents.
[Aus]T.A.G. Hungerford Riverslake 167: Peopled with all the dead-beat cooks and yardmen and hangers-on he had met and known in half a dozen camps – good men some of them, and some of them, just the wrecks of men.
[UK]A. Sillitoe Start in Life (1979) 69: No job. No prospects even. What a deadbeat tramp you are.
[Aus]J. McNeill Old Familiar Juice (1973) 102: bulla: That’d be better than dead-beat, suckin’ on metho corks.
[US]G. Wolff Duke of Deception (1990) 184: You’re all air [...] just a crummy, deadbeat talker.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 49: He was just another of her supply of deadbeat daddyos.
[US]J. Lerner You Got Nothing Coming 343: Come on out, you deadbeat piece of shit!
[US](con. 1973) C. Stella Johnny Porno 45: Bring me the money you owe, you deadbeat fuck.
[US]E. Beetner ‘Zed’s Dead, Baby’ in Pulp Ink [ebook] Drug addict. Gambler. Deadbeat Dad. Car thief.
[US](con. 1962) J. Ellroy Enchanters 361: Chino. The sodft joint. It housed first-time felons and career deadbeat dads.

4. lazy, idle.

[US]Chicago Trib. 13 Oct. 4/4: The eagerness of our local officials to avail themselves of every opportunity to go on a dead-beat spree [DA].