What does ‘starve to death’ mean?

I have spoken of the rich years when the rainfall was plentiful. But
there were dry years too, and they put a terror on the valley. The
water came in a thirty-year cycle. There would be five or six wet and
wonderful years when there might be nineteen to twenty-five inches of
rain, and the land would shout with grass. Then would come six or
seven pretty good years of twelve to sixteen inches of rain. And then
the dry years would come, and sometimes there would be only seven or
eight inches of rain. The land dried up and the grasses headed out
miserably a few inches high and great bare scabby places appeared in
the valley. The live oaks got a crusty look and the sage-brush was
gray. The land cracked and the springs dried up and the cattle
listlessly nibbled dry twigs. Then the farmers and the ranchers would
be filled with disgust for the Salinas Valley. The cows would grow
thin and sometimes starve to death. People would have to haul
water in barrels to their farms just for drinking. Some families would
sell out for nearly nothing and move away. And it never failed that
during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and
during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was
always that way. (John Steinbeck, East of Eden)

Does the highlighted part mean
(1) ‘starved and so they died,’ (to death is a [predictive or resultative] complement)
or (2) ‘starved extremely’? (to death is an adjunct denoting degreee)


It should be noted that in that example Steinbeck is describing cows that would literally die from lack of food. That is a totally correct way to use the phrase, but it isn’t the most common use. That phrase is seen and heard most often in a way that is obvious exaggeration and hyperbole, as in a kid coming home from school and telling his mother that he needs a cookie before dinner because he is “starving to death”. Neither the kid nor his mother thinks for a second that the child’s life is in danger, nor that the kid is being dishonest. In that context, “starving to death” is just an innocent turn of phrase that means “hungry”, even just mildly hungry.

Source : Link , Question Author : Listenever , Answer Author : Jolenealaska

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