die off (sudden versus slowly)

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sunyaer

Senior Member
Chinese
I found the following sentence on sentencedict.com web site at Die off in a sentence (esp. good sentence like quote, proverb...)

"The reindeer herds are slowly dying off."

On wordreference.com, I found the entry of "die-off" as a noun at die-off - WordReference.com Dictionary of English:

n. 1.a sudden, natural perishing of large numbers of a species, population, or community.

My question is:

Why the noun form of "die-off" carries the sense of "sudden" while its verb form could have the meaning of "slowly" (which is quite opposite to "sudden") in the above sentence?
 
  • bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    I suspect that it is because of how "die-off" is used by scientists or experts while "dying off" is used by the wider population, who have de facto given it a more general meaning. (Not to fault the public here, as dying off was likely used far before the more technical meaning of die-off was needed or established.)
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    Look at the WR dictionary's page for "die". There you will find the verb "die off" twice, with no "sudden". So it agrees with your sentence, about the verb's meaning. Note that "die out" is more common in AE: "The reindeer are dying out."

    I have never seen or heard "die-off" so I don't know how it is used. But as a guess, a "die-off" is "an event". If something is very gradual (taking 100 years, for example), it is not "an event".

    And English speakers can easily use verbs as noun. We can say "The dying off of the reindeer is sad.", or "The reindeer's dying off is sad." So we do not need a noun that has the same meaning as the verb.

    According to this ngram plot(Google Ngram Viewer), "die-off" started being used in books around 1930 and gradually became more common, while "die off" has been in use much longer. Another Ngram (Google Ngram Viewer) compares "die out", which probably became more popular because of Darwin's books (1839, 1859, 1871) where he discusses species extinction.
     
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    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    Oxford Learner's Dictionaries:

    die out

    to stop existing: This species has nearly died out because its habitat is being destroyed.

    die off
    to die one after the other until there are none left: The reindeer herds are slowly dying off.

    Merriam Webster:

    Definition of die out
    : to become extinct

    Definition of die-off (Entry 1 of 2) noun
    : a sudden sharp decline of a population of animals or plants that is not caused directly by human activity

    Definition of die off (Entry 2 of 2) verb
    : to die sequentially either singly or in numbers so that the total number is greatly diminished.
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Merriam Webster:
    Definition of die off (Entry 2 of 2) verb
    : to die sequentially either singly or in numbers so that the total number is greatly diminished.
    on the same sentencedict.com web page,
    there is this sentence:

    4. The rumble of thunder died off.

    Should "died off" be "died out" here? If "died off" is natural, is it that "died off" relates the subject noun "rumble" to some sort of plural sense?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Die off, die out, die away — they’re all quite similar and can’t be pigeonholed into a single context.

    I’d never heard of die-off as a noun either.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    4. The rumble of thunder died off.

    Should "died off" be "died out" here? If "died off" is natural, is it that "died off" relates the subject noun "rumble" to some sort of plural sense?
    1. To me, when talking about the noise (rumble) of thunder:
    -- "died off" means got quieter, like thunder does if the storm moves farther away
    -- "died out" means went to zero.

    2. No, there is no plural sense implied. That is not implied by "died off".
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    1. To me, when talking about the noise (rumble) of thunder:
    -- "died off" means got quieter, like thunder does if the storm moves farther away
    ...
    How to understand "got quieter" of rumble here? Would the rumble have to be lasting for a long period of time in order to make "quieter" have sense?
     
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    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    I googled "die off, zoological term" and got this response:

    the definition of die-off

    die-off
    [dī′ôf′]
    1. A sudden, severe decline in a population or community of organisms as a result of natural causes. Local die-offs can be caused by such factors as an unusual or extreme weather pattern, an outbreak ofdisease, or toxic algal blooms in a body of water. Widespread or global die-offs in which a species orgroup of species becomes extinct are generally associated with rapid climate change or other large-scaleenvironmental dislocations.

    In the evolution of living species, 100 years might be an "event". The Tasmanian Tiger of Australia became extinct after only 100 years contact with European settlers, but the species is believed to have survived for four million years prior to that. So 100 years is, relatively an "event", or at the least a sudden occurrence.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    How to understand "got quieter" of rumble here? Would the rumble have to be lasting for a long period of time in order to make "quieter" have sense?
    "Quieter" can make sense in any time period. But for us to talk about thunder becoming quieter, it would have to be at one level of loudness for a minute or more, and later be at a lower level for a minute or more.

    For thunder it is typically 5 to 15 minutes between "loudest" and "quieter". The storm can move in that time, or the storm can be getting weaker (but still have some rumbles of thunder).
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    "Quieter" can make sense in any time period. But for us to talk about thunder becoming quieter, it would have to be at one level of loudness for a minute or more, and later be at a lower level for a minute or more.

    For thunder it is typically 5 to 15 minutes between "loudest" and "quieter". The storm can move in that time, or the storm can be getting weaker (but still have some rumbles of thunder).
    As I remember, I have never experienced a one minute thunder continuously going on.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    I agree. Each individual sound is either a "thunderclap" (1 to 4 seconds), or "rolling thunder" (5 to 10 seconds).
     

    sunyaer

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    I agree. Each individual sound is either a "thunderclap" (1 to 4 seconds), or "rolling thunder" (5 to 10 seconds).
    When we say "the rumble of thunder died off", do we actually mean these discontinued sounds?

    If there is no thunder which would last for one minute, how would "die off" be used?
     
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