• synonyms


[noun ded-beet; adjective ded-beet]
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  1. a person who deliberately avoids paying debts.
  2. a loafer; sponger.
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  1. being a parent who neglects parental responsibilities, especially one who does not pay child support: deadbeat dads.
  2. Horology. noting any of various escapements acting without recoil of the locking parts from the shock of contact.
  3. Electricity. (of the indicator of an electric meter and the like) coming to a stop with little or no oscillation.
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Origin of deadbeat

First recorded in 1760–70; dead + beat
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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Examples from the Web for deadbeat

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • I knew you looked a deadbeat, but Id no idea I was quite so bad, he said.

    The Protector

    Harold Bindloss

  • The bartender, accepting the situation as generally inclusive, put his hands up along with his deadbeat patrons.

    Trail's End

    George W. Ogden

  • The sparrow was deadbeat, and was travelling slowly to the north and west on a zigzag course, about two hundred feet high.

British Dictionary definitions for deadbeat


  1. informal a lazy or socially undesirable person
  2. mainly US
    1. a person who makes a habit of avoiding or evading his or her responsibilities or debts
    2. (as modifier)a deadbeat dad
  3. a high grade escapement used in pendulum clocks
  4. (modifier) (of a clock escapement) having a beat without any recoil
  5. (modifier) physics
    1. (of a system) returning to an equilibrium position with little or no oscillation
    2. (of an instrument or indicator) indicating a true reading without oscillation
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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

Word Origin and History for deadbeat


"worthless sponging idler," 1863, American English slang, perhaps originally Civil War slang, from dead (adj.) + beat. Earlier used colloquially as an adjectival expression to mean "completely beaten" (1821), and perhaps the base notion is of "worn out, good for nothing." It is noted in a British source from 1861 as a term for "a pensioner."

In England "dead beat" means worn out, used up. ... But here, "dead beat" is used, as a substantive, to mean a scoundrel, a shiftless, swindling vagabond. We hear it said that such a man is a beat or a dead beat. The phrase thus used is not even good slang. It is neither humorous nor descriptive. There is not in it even a perversion of the sense of the words of which it is composed. Its origin is quite beyond conjecture. ["Americanisms," in "The Galaxy," January 1878]

It also was used of a kind of regulating mechanism in pendulum clocks.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper