The earliest meaning of the word “quick” in English is “alive.” When a baby was first felt to move in its mother’s womb it was considered to have come to life, and this moment was called “quickening.” This original meaning of the word “quick” has now died out except in the phrase “the quick and the dead,” kept alive by the King James translation of Acts 10:42, which speaks of Jesus as judge “of quick and dead,” but even more by the continued recitation of the Apostles’ Creed, which says of Jesus that “he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

People who use this phrase to imply that speed is involved—liveliness rather than aliveness—sometimes get credit for creating a clever pun but more often come off as ignorant.

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