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[ded-woo d] /ˈdɛdˌwʊd/
the dead branches on a tree; dead branches or trees.
useless or burdensome persons or things:
He cut the deadwood from his staff.
(in writing) unnecessary words, phrases, or exposition; expendable verbiage.
Nautical. a solid construction, serving only as reinforcement, located between the keel of a vessel and the stem or sternpost.
Bowling. pins remaining on the alley after having been knocked down by the ball.
  1. Rummy. cards in a hand that have not been included in sets and are usually counted as points against the holder.
  2. Poker. cards that have been discarded.
Origin of deadwood
First recorded in 1720-30; dead + wood1 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for deadwood
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • deadwood Gamely broke into a very excessive but false laugh.

    Pee-wee Harris Percy Keese Fitzhugh
  • If ever there was poetry in a “deadwood Dick,” thought Phil, surely it was then.

  • Now, it must be premised that deadwood had recently chosen a sheriff.

    Blazed Trail Stories Stewart Edward White
  • If ever I get the deadwood on you an' yore outfit, I'll sure put you through.

    Oh, You Tex! William Macleod Raine
  • There's no sense in lopping off a few branches even of deadwood.

    Jack O' Judgment Edgar Wallace
British Dictionary definitions for deadwood


dead trees or branches
(informal) a useless person; encumbrance
(nautical) a filler piece between the keel and the stern of a wooden vessel
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for deadwood

1887 in figurative sense of "useless person or thing," originally American English, from dead (adj.) + wood (n.). Dead wood in a forest is useful as firewood; perhaps the reference here is to the dried up parts of plants grown for commercial production of flowers or fruit.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for deadwood



  1. Unproductive persons; lazy and useless staff
  2. Anything useless, esp something useless that must be kept

[1887+; fr the fact that dead or rotten wood does not produce much heat when burned]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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