What Does It Mean to Be "Dead to the World"?

Jim B.

If someone is described as being "dead to the world," it generally means that he or she has fallen into an extremely deep sleep. This is an English idiom that implies that a sleeping person has no awareness whatsoever of his or her surroundings or of anyone else in the vicinity. The phrase "dead to the world" can also be applied to someone who is not necessarily asleep but is still completely ignorant of everything near him. Its meaning comes from the accepted figurative meaning of the world "dead" as someone who is unaware or numb to stimuli.

A person in a deep sleep may be described as "dead to the world".
A person in a deep sleep may be described as "dead to the world".

When someone uses a word or phrase that has a meaning different than the meaning that might be expected based on the literal definitions of the words, he or she is using an idiom. Idioms are useful in that they allow people to add color and impact to speech that might otherwise be too dull. These phrases get their meanings from how they are used in the culture and understood by the people listening. One such idiomatic expression is the phrase "dead to the world."

Someone who is "dead to the world" might be self involved and oblivious to their surroundings.
Someone who is "dead to the world" might be self involved and oblivious to their surroundings.

This phrase suggests that the person in question has fallen into slumber that is overwhelmingly deep. As a result, this person likely cannot hear anything that is going around him or her, even if the noises are significantly loud. The phrase also implies that the person is missing out on a great deal during this deep sleep. For example, someone might say, "Despite all that happened in this room, he slept through it all, completely dead to the world."

There are certain occasions when someone can be described with this phrase even if he or she is not asleep. Such a person might be awake but still not aware of all that is going on around him or her. This ignorance can mean that people described this way are oblivious to even others who are directly in front of them. As an example, consider the sentence, "I thought that he heard me, but you know that he's dead to the world when he has those headphones on."

"Dead to the world" is one of many idioms that is not meant to be taken literally. Obviously, when someone is described in this way, it does not mean that he or she is literally deceased. Instead, the meaning of "dead" in this phrase is a figurative meaning, more closely associated with someone who is oblivious rather than actually dead.

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Discussion Comments


I once went on a ten day backpacking trip and when I came back I was dead to the world for about 36 hours. All I wanted to do was take a very long hot shower and then sleep the sleep of the dead. And that's exactly what I did.

I have never been a huge sleeper but I slept for 16 straight hours after I got back. My girlfriend was amazed. She said that the dog barked, the phone rang, she walked in and out of the bedroom and I didn't move once. If the circumstances were a little different I might be embarrassed but obviously at that place in that time I need the sleep.


It seems like more and more it is easy to be dead to this world. With the internet, television, movies, video games, texting and online shopping there is little reason for some people to leave their homes or to interact with anyone else.

It is a sad state of affairs but I have faith in the world because people are naturally social creatures. No matter how easy the world makes it for us to be isolated and disconnected, people will find a way and a reason to gather with one another.


When I was doing my doctoral thesis I was pretty much dead to the world. I lived in the library and the only other places I went were to my living room and to the Chinese place down the street. Besides that I barely ever went anywhere or spoke to anyone.

That was a long lonely two years but that was what I needed to get my thesis done. I have always struggled to overcome distractions and I know that if I was more social during this part of my life the thesis would have never gotten written.

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