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I faced this sentence actually:

One would be caught dead without one of these.

What does "would be caught dead" mean?

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  • 1
    This is odd construction. Usually I would expect "One wouldn't be caught dead without one of these" to indicate that even if you were dead you wouldn't want to be without one. I wonder if this is like the BrE/AmE Couldn't care less / could care less. What is your Locale? Are you positive it was would ?
    – Smock
    Jul 15 '19 at 10:27
  • The meaning you said for roughly is ok. Actually it was in a film once a person was interesting sb else for buying a product. Yes i think so it was would
    – Ryan
    Jul 15 '19 at 10:40
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The fixed phrase is wouldn't be caught dead [in circumstance].

It means "would not allow oneself to be seen in this circumstance, even if you had the excuse of being dead". For example, "She wouldn't be caught dead without her high heels and shades". It means she always wore high heels and shades when in public.

Because the phrase is used a lot, it sometimes loses the negation, and "would be caught dead" means the identical thing to "wouldn't be caught dead". (In the same way as "could care less" means the same as "couldn't care less".)

Also, as a form of exaggerated understatement (litotes), you will occasionally see "I would be caught dead in" to mean "Absolute opposite of wouldn't be caught dead in". For example, someone at Pinterest lists her favourites as "Dresses I would be caught dead in :)"

Your example might be either of these second forms: without context it's impossible to tell.

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  • Do you know if the could/couldn't is a AmE/BrE thing? It's always been a bug-bear of mine, as they don't mean the same thing.
    – Smock
    Jul 15 '19 at 10:31
  • @Smock I believe AmE is always "wouldn't", "couldn't" etc. I think I've only really heard a fraction of BrE speakers drop the negation without intending any difference in meaning, and they also say "search with a tooth-comb" instead of "search with a fine-toothed comb". I suspect it's regional UK usage, but can't be sure.
    – jonathanjo
    Jul 15 '19 at 10:39
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    As a BrE native speaker I've never heard of searching with a tooth-comb - it just doesn't make sense. Also this seems to point to it being AmE that use could care less en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… You're answer is spot on though so +1
    – Smock
    Jul 15 '19 at 10:43
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    @jonathanjo Fair enough! There's probably BrE speakers that use could care less too by osmosis (and watching American TV shows). It still grinds my gears though :)
    – Smock
    Jul 15 '19 at 10:56
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    Brits often say "seen dead", e.g. my father wouldn't be seen dead wearing brown shoes. Jul 15 '19 at 11:09
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There is an example of "would be caught dead" here https://youtu.be/PcE5ne9SqH8?t=80 In my opinion it is like the Dave Goreman example of "a bowl in a china shop", where people hear it, don't quite understand it, repeat it incorrectly and it catches on.

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