Green’s Dictionary of Slang

deadbeat n.

[backform. f. deadbeat adj.]

1. a state of exhaustion.

[Ire]Tom And Jerry; Musical Extravaganza I i: Bill, what are you stopping at? What! Have I brought you all to a dead beat?

2. of things, a failure, a deception.

[US]New North West 9 July 1/2: The Pacific Circus gave its closing performance last night. It was a dead beat [DA].
[US]G.P. Burnham Memoirs of the US Secret Service 130: [of a ten-dollar note] ‘It’s a counterfeit,’ said Rugg quietly [...] ‘A “dead-beat”, old fellow. Not worth a penny.’.

3. of people, a failure, a down-and-out.

[US]G.W. Whitman in Civil War Letters 25 Feb. 87: There is a lot of dead beats that get off by playing sick.
[US]N.Y. Times 23 June 4/7: He was summarily ejected by the scruff of the neck, with the intimation — given in the choicest of rum-saloon language — that he was a dead-beat.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 21 Mar. 6/3: As one who knows the sex well truly observes, there are some woman who would marry Lazarus himself, provided the old Biblical deadbeat could pick up enough crumbs to keep a family of two.
[US]F.D. Srygley Seventy Years in Dixie 224: A worthless, thriftless set of poverty-striken dead-beats.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 2 June 4/8: As for the titled ‘deadbeats’ they care nothing what the woman is like providing she hold the cash.
[Aus]J. Furphy Such is Life 63: Legends wherein the unvarying motif was a dazzling cash advance made by Satan in pre-payment for the soul of some rustic dead-beat.
[US]J. Lomax Cowboy Songs 150: Oh, Tom is a big six-footer and thinks he’s mighty fly, / But I can tell you is racket, – he’s a deadbeat on the sly.
[US]S. Lewis Arrowsmith 192: Not many dead-beats among the Germans.
[US]Ade Old-Time Saloon 37: The bar-keep had to exercise a nice sense of discrimination in sorting out the willing spenders from the dead-beats.
[US]G. Fowler Good Night, Sweet Prince 104: You are a deadbeat and a welsher.
[US]B. Schulberg On the Waterfront (1964) 17: Everybody was thumbed in to work, except the [...] dead beats and the rebels.
[US]H.S. Thompson Hell’s Angels (1967) 61: We get a lot of deadbeats in this business.
[US]G.V. Higgins Digger’s Game (1981) 9: They don’t want no deadbeats.
[US]S. King Christine 365: His father had been a drunk, his mother a drudge, his one brother a deadbeat.
[US]Mad mag. Apr. 7: They were only a week behind in their payments [...] but to Goldilocks they were deadbeats.
[US](con. 1964–8) J. Ellroy Cold Six Thousand 581: He muscled a deadbeat. It was late ’66. The clown was named Sirhan Sirhan.
[US]C. Hiaasen Nature Girl 12: [People] had at various times called him a deadbeat, a maggot, a polyp [etc.].
[US](con. 1973) C. Stella Johnny Porno 262: I still feel like a deadbeat for when you paid for my coffee.

4. in attrib. use of sense 3.

[US]Eve. Herald (Albuquerque, NM) 22 Jan. 5/1: Joe Doe paid his bills. [...] James Roe chose the other way [...] and rapidly drifted into the ‘deadbeat’ class.

5. a malingerer, an idler, a wastrel.

Galwey Valiant Hours (1961) 72: The [...] habitual deadbeats, anxious to avoid duty, are marched from each company by a Sergeant.
[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 326: Their proprietors can now shut their doors against rowdies, ruffians, dead-beats, shysters, and checkcharmers, without the least apprehensions on the score of violence.
[US]Meridional (Abbeveille, LA) 24 Aug. 2/2: The mob of country-savers, shysters, dead-beats, bummers [...] guttersnipes, wardstrikers, shoulder-hitters, gin gugglers and monopolists who congregate [...] to hoodwink and bumfuddle the unwary and bulldoze the upright.
[US]Dodge City Times (KS) 10 Jan. 1/2: Thurston bears the reputation of being a newspaper pimp and dead-beat.
[UK]East London Observer 4 Feb. n.p.: Hundreds, too, of slaved dead beats, / All, all stone broke, / Perambulate the Brisbane streets, / Fit, fit to croak.
[US]Advocate (Topeka, KS) 7 Aug. 8/1: John Waller has a reputation in Kansas of a shystering politician and an all-round deadbeat.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 13 Jan. 4/2: The very complaisant clique who own [railways] and run them in the interests of aristocratic ‘dead-heads’ and other ‘dead-beats’.
[UK]Wodehouse Psmith in the City (1993) 48: Work, the hobby of the hustler and the deadbeat’s dread.
[Aus]D. Niland Big Smoke 10: I got no time for deadbeats, rich, poor, or in between.
[NZ]J.A. Lee Shiner Slattery 168: He knew he was the most tolerated deadbeat in New Zealand’s history.
[US]A. Brooke Last Toke 115: Dead beats. I got one who ain’t paid me.
[UK]K. Sampson Outlaws (ms.) 108: Fucking deadbeat that I am, plonkie fucking half a playboy that I’ve become.

6. a cadger, a sponge.

[UK]Cornhill Mag. Jan. 94: ‘Beau’ Hickaman [was] a professional pensioner, or, in the elegant phraseology of the place ‘a deadbeat’ [DA].
[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 254: To use an expressive Americanism, he was ‘a dead beat.’ He beat everybody he could who was worth beating, and was no respecter of persons outside his own family and profession. He was uneducated and uncultivated, possessed of neither wit nor conversational powers of any sort, but his consummate impudence and tact overcame all difficulties.
[UK]Manchester Courier 16 Aug. 3/1: The Dead-Beat Nuisance [...] We have dead-beats [...] who ‘shin’ from day to day [...] Whether we call this organised beggary, or organised robbery [etc.] .
[US]McCook Wkly Tribune (NE) 10 Jan. 1/4: [He] gets ‘a pass’ for a year, rides $25 worth, and then is looked upon as a deadhead, or a half-blown deadbeat.
[US]J. Flynt Tramping with Tramps 268: Not being at all sure that I should be successful in making the journey from New York to Albany in one night as a ‘dead-beat’ on a freight train.
[US]Chicago Eagle (IL) 25 Feb. 1/6: It makes things easy for the grafting deadbeat and nobody else. A dead-beat grafter can run for high-salried jobs.
[US]Alliance Herald (Box Butte Co., NE) 14 Dec. 8/3: The deadbeat in general considers himself [...] a gentleman rather wrong by society rather than wronging it.
[US]Wood & Goddard Dict. Amer. Sl.
[US]R. Benton Where Do I Go From Here? in Hamilton Men of the Und. 156: There was a deadbeat [...] who owed me $4,000.
[UK]S. Lister Mistral Hotel (1951) 57: No more deadbeats in the hotel.
[US]E. De Roo Go, Man, Go! 31: Check if you’re not a dead beat. Something on account.
[US]E. Bunker No Beast So Fierce 89: Allen McArthur is the world’s greatest deadbeat.
[US]Pileggi & Scorsese Goodfellas [film script] 26: Are you calling me a deadbeat?

7. (US) a form of alcohol.

[US]Bartlett Dict. Americanisms (4th edn) 357: Liquor [...] Deadbeat.

8. one who reneges on their debts.

Salt lake City Herald 13 Nov. 4/4: ‘List of names compiled for the Merchants’ Association of St Louis’ [...] the ‘Dead-beat book’ [...] How lacerating [...] must it be for the feelings of a sensitive man to have the world know that he owes for his grandmother’s coffin! But the Dead-beat Book spares no feelings.
[US]Wkly Messenger (St Martinsville, LA) 27 Mar. 3/2: The most successful hotel deadbeat [...] takes his ‘wife’ with him. This is done to throw the hotel man off his track, on the supposition that a man who takes his wife [...] has enough money to pay his bills.
[US]Salt Lake City Herald 31 Jan. 6/1: The Merchants Meet [...] at the Chamber of Commerce [...] benefiting their own business by helping others steer clear of the ever-present ‘deadbeat’.
[US]W.C. Gore Student Sl. in Cohen (1997) 19: dead-beat. One who does not pay his debts.
[US]Shiner Gaz. (TX) 15 Apr. 2/2: The present collection of laws are all in favor of the man who will not pay his bills. The rich deadbeat is a harder customer to deal with than the poor man who would pay and cannot.
[US]M.G. Hayden ‘Terms Of Disparagement’ in DN IV:iii 205: dead-head, -beat, a cheat.
[US]Eve. Herald (Klamath Falls, OH) 20 Jan. 2/2: The deadbeast is not a new species [...] No more troublesome element is found in society today than the person in debt who can pay but will not pay.
[US]S. Lewis Arrowsmith 9: The Doc was always swearing he would ‘collect from those dead-beats right now’.
[US] ‘Hay Sing, Come From China’ in Lingenfelter et al. Songs of the Amer. West (1968) 304: No likee Melican man [...] No pay washee bill, him a dead beat.
D.L. Champion ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ in G-Men Detective Winter [Internet] ‘If we kill you we don’t get paid. But you’re an example. Your death will encourage a lot of other deadbeats to pay off.’.
[US] in J. Breslin World of Jimmy Breslin (1968) 116: A minute percentage of non-payers are of the type known as ‘dead beats.’.
[US]G. Wolff Duke of Deception (1990) 80: What you have here is a man stiffed you. You guys are in business, haven’t you ever met a deadbeat?
[US] in J. Breslin Damon Runyon (1992) 21: ‘Put in the paper that they’re all deadbeats,’ Manny complained to Runyon.
[US](con. 1964–8) J. Ellroy Cold Six Thousand 410: We’ve got some deadbeats. I do not see the wisdom of consigning white horse on credit.
[US]J. Díaz This Is How You Lose Her 183: Deadbeats catch one peep of your dismal grill and cough up their debts.