The Origin of the Name Deadbolt Lock

The word deadbolt, as applied to a lock, came into use in 1902, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, when it described a bolt that was "dead," rather than "live," meaning a key could unlock it from outside the house.

The deadbolt can only be opened from one side.

A Compound Word

"Dead" appears in Old English in the 13th century. "Bolt" came to English from Old High German in about the 12th century as the word "Bolz," which meant a cross bow "bolt" (arrow).

Dead Origins

"Dead" came into Old English from Proto-German as "dauthaz" and, earlier from the Indo-European "dheu," meaning "insensible."

Dead Spelling

The original spelling used the Old English letter "thorn," which disappeared from the language in the transition from Middle to Modern English. Pronounced like the "th" sound in "thick," dead and death were homophones (the same spelling with different meanings).

Bolt Origins

"Bolt" is a short, stout arrow used in crossbows. The word came from Norse, through Danish, becoming the Proto-Germanic "bultas" and, eventually, the German "Bolz" or "Bolzen"

Modern Usage

The modern deadbolt might be a cylindrical slide bolt, or a keyed lock without an opening mechanism, like a knob.

Will Charpentier

Will Charpentier is a writer who specializes in boating and maritime subjects. A retired ship captain, Charpentier holds a doctorate in applied ocean science and engineering. He is also a certified marine technician and the author of a popular text on writing local history.