• IPA: /ˈdɛdhɛd/

deadhead (plural deadheads)

  1. A person either admitted to a theatrical or musical performance without charge, or paid to attend.
    • 1901 R. J. Broadbent, A History of Pantomime ↗
      Among the Romans.... The free admission tickets were small ivory death's heads, and specimens of these are to be seen in the Museum of Naples. From this custom, it is stated, that we derive our word “Deadhead,” as denoting one who has a free entrance to places of amusement.
    • 1931, Bernard Shaw, Our Theatre in the Nineties (volume 24, page 246)
      […] we critics were not his fellow-guests, but simply deadheads whose business it was to "dress the house" and write puffs.
  2. An employee of a transportation company, especially a pilot, traveling as a passenger for logistical reasons, for example to return home or travel to their next assignment.
  3. Anyone traveling for free.
    • 1873, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age, Part 4. ↗
      With the check came two through tickets—good on the railroad from Hawkeye to Washington via New York—and they were “deadhead” tickets, too, which had been given to Senator Dilworthy by the railway companies. Senators and representatives were paid thousands of dollars by the government for traveling expenses, but they always traveled “deadhead” both ways, and then did as any honorable, high-minded men would naturally do—declined to receive the mileage tendered them by the government. The Senator had plenty of railway passes, and could. easily spare two to Laura—one for herself and one for a male escort.
    • 1882, Bret Harte, Found At Blazing Star ↗
      I reckon I won't take the vote of any deadhead passenger.
    • 1904, Gideon Wurdz, The Foolish Dictionary ↗
      PASSENGER One who does not travel on a pass. (Antonym for Deadhead). From Eng. pass, to go, and Grk. endidomi, to give up. One who has to give up to go.
    • 1908, Wallace Irwin, The Love Sonnets of a Car Conductor ↗
      The yap that kicks and rings a deadhead call
      Must either spend or else get off the car.
  4. A train or truck moved between cities with no passengers or freight, in order to make it available for service.
  5. A person staying at a lodging, such as a hotel or boarding house, without paying rent; freeloader.
    • 1872, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr, The Poet At The Breakfast Table ↗
      For the Caput mortuum (or deadhead, in vulgar phrase) is apt to be furnished with a Venter vivus, or, as we may say, a lively appetite.
    • 1922, Rex Beach, Flowing Gold ↗
      Haviland had a sense of humor; it would make a story too good to keep--the new oil operator, the magnificent and mysterious New York financier, a “deadhead” at the Ajax. Oh, murder!
  6. A stupid or boring person; dullard.
    • 1967, James Jones, Go to the Widow-Maker, Delacorte Press (1967), 72,
      “Listen, you two deadheads,” he growled at them, more viciously energetic than he meant, and both turned to stare. He softened his tone. “What's going on here, anyway? What kind of a morgue is this? Is this any way to spend my last four days in town? Come on, let's all go out and do something.”
  7. A tree or tree branch fixed in the bottom of a river or other navigable body of water, partially submerged or rising nearly the surface, by which boats are sometimes pierced and sunk; snag.
  8. (slang) Driftwood.
  9. (slang) A fan of the rock band the Grateful Dead (usually Deadhead).
  10. (slang) A zombie.
    • 2010, Mark Tufo, Sylwia Serwinska, Zombie Fallout (page 148)
      I was dreaming about working at Wal-Mart before the deadheads came.

deadhead (deadheads, present participle deadheading; past and past participle deadheaded)

  1. (transitive) To admit to a performance without charge.
    • 1960, Dissertation Abstracts (volume 20, page 2811)
      […] the "puffing" system in criticism, whereby newspaper people were deadheaded in exchange for complimentary notices.
  2. (intransitive) To travel as a deadhead, or non-paying passenger.
  3. (transitive, intransitive) To drive an empty vehicle.
    • 2006, Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day, Vintage 2007, p. 845:
      Kit had fallen into conversation with a footplate man who was deadheading back out to Samarkand, where he lived with his wife and children.
  4. (transitive) To send (a person or message) for free.
    • 1873, Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and Charles Dudley Warner, The Gilded Age, Part 4. ↗
      Washington suggested that she get some old friend of the family to come with her, and said the Senator would “deadhead” him home again as soon as he had grown tired, of the sights of the capital.
    • 1910, Frank Lewis Dyer and Thomas Commerford Martin, Edison, His Life and Inventions ↗
      He said that if the operator had taken $800 and sent the message at the regular rate, which was twenty-five cents, it would have been all right, as the Jew would be punished for trying to bribe a military operator; but when the operator took the $800 and then sent the message deadhead, he couldn't stand it, and he would never relent.
    • 1934, Lester Dent (as Kenneth Robeson), Brand Of The Werewolf, A Doc Savage Adventure
      “I'll deadhead the message for you, Mr. Savage. It won't cost a thing.”
  5. (transitive) To remove spent or dead blossoms from a plant.
    If you deadhead your roses regularly, they will bloom all season.


deadhead (plural deadheads)

  1. (slang) A fan of the rock band The Grateful Dead.

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