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50 Deathly Idioms and Phrases

Updated on November 6, 2019
Ben Reed profile image

Ben has held a life-long interest in language and has a particular interest in the expressions, phrases, and idioms that contribute to it.

Deathly Idioms and Phrases

Death can be a difficult subject to discuss. Most of us consider it to be a morbid subject. We all know it is something that will inevitably catch up with us, but we would rather worry about it later and not let thoughts of it cloud our day to day lives just yet.

But be warned. Generations of people who have come and gone before us, have passed on the benefits of their experiences in the form of these idioms and phrases about death. Perhaps we should dare to take a look at them. You never know—it may save your life!

Idioms and phrases about death
Idioms and phrases about death | Source

Between Life and Death

Idioms related to the fine balance between existence and death.

1. A Brush With Death

Meaning: to have been close to being killed.

2. At Deaths Doorstep

A way of saying that a person is very ill, and possibly close to dying. Also used to describe something that is close to destruction.

3. A Near Death Experience

A feeling that some people have reported after being close to death. These people often describe a sense of having left their body, and watched themselves from above.

4. To Cheat Death

A way of saying that someone has escaped from an incident with their life.

5. A Matter of Life and Death

A way of saying that something is very urgent.

6. Between Life and Death

Used to describe a situation where a person is still alive, but is very sick or close to dying.

7. To be In at the Death

A way of saying that you or a person are involved, or present at the end of an event.

8. To Sound the Death Knell

A way of saying or announcing that the end of something is near.

9. To Die a Natural Death

Usually said when stating that someone has passed away peacefully from old age rather than by foul means.

10. Life After Death

A way of saying that someone continues to exist in some form after they have died.

What comes next?
What comes next?

Deathly Phrases

11. Dead Ringer

A phrase for somebody who looks just like another.
But did you know that this phrase had rather more sinister and horrific origins? In Britain during Medieval times, it was not uncommon for people to be pronounced dead, when in fact they may have just been in an unconscious state, or in a coma.

Over time, bodies were exhumed both legally, and illegally. Sometimes these corpses were found with their fingers worn to the bone as they had been alive at the time of their burial, and they had tried to claw their way out of the coffin.

As these stories spread, people began to mistrust medical opinion and some started to bury their loved ones with a string attached to their wrist, with the string being attached to a bell above the grave. It is believed that some people were exhumed after bells were rung, and that they then carried on with their lives. When they were again seen in public, people would comment that they had seen someone who looked just like a person they knew, and the phrase “Dead Ringer” was born [1].

12. Dead Wood

This is a derogatory phrase given to someone who is not up to the standard of others — usually in a team of people at work.

13. Dead Weight

Has similar meaning to the phrase above. Believed to have originated from the practice of placing “dead wood” in the keel of a ship. This wood had no other purpose other than to add weight and strength.

Dicing With Death

14. Dice With Death

Meaning that someone is taking extreme risks, or putting themselves in a very dangerous place.

15. Dance of Death

A way of saying that to attempt something is very risky.

16. Death Spiral

A way of saying that a situation is inevitably on a path to Destruction.

17. A Kiss of Death

Something described as this is a way of saying that it is certain to cause something else to fail.

Death or Glory

18. Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death

A way of saying that you refuse to submit to something being imposed on you.

19. To Die in the Last Ditch

A way of saying that you will resist something to the very end.

20. A Fate Worse Than Death

Originally, this idiom had a much more serious meaning, and meant literally that something that had happened was worse than death. Today, this idiom is used much more lightly, and is often said to explain that that you are being asked to do something that you are not particularly happy about.

21. Cowards Die Many Times Before Their Death

Originally, this phrase was spoken by Julia Caeser in a play by William Shakespeare. The idiom is used to describe a situation where a person fears death so much that they suffer the stress of death many, many times before actually dying.

Like Death Warmed Up - Explained

Looks Like Death - Idioms

22. Drop Dead Gorgeous

A way of saying that a person is stunningly beautiful.

23. As Pale as Death

A way of describing that someone is very pale, looking very unwell.

24. To Look Like Death

Similar to the idiom above. A way of saying that someone is looking very ill.

25. Like Death Warmed Up

Another idiom which is describing someone who looks very ill.

Deadly Idioms an Expression of Warning

26. Have a Death Wish

Meaning that someone has a desire for self-destruction. They have regularly and consistently put themselves into dangerous situations.

27. To Work Oneself to Death

A way of saying that you have worked excessively hard, or for very long hours. Usually used when describing a situation where you have had to put a great deal of effort and time into a project which has ultimately been worth the effort.

28. On Pain of Death

A way of saying that someone has been tasked with completing something with the threat of being executed as punishment should they fail. Usually used hyperbolically.

29. Sign Own Death Warrant

A way of saying that a person has behaved in a way that is sure to cause their own ruin.

30. You’ll Catch Your Death

A way of warning someone that if they go outside improperly dressed when it is cold or wet, that they will risk becoming ill.

31. To Catch Ones Death of Cold

Similar meaning to idiom above. A warning that you should wrap up dry and warm.

This gargoyle looks bored to death
This gargoyle looks bored to death | Source

Not Quite Yet Flogged to Death

32. Badger to Death

A way of saying that someone has been pestered or nagged relentlessly.

33. Flog to Death

A way of saying that someone has gone on and on about a something for so long, in spite of everyone else no longer having an interest in it, and the subject is irrelevant.

34. To Cut Someone Dead

A way of saying that someone has made a vigorous verbal attack on another.

35. Be Sick to Death of

Meaning that you are thoroughly bored by or fed up of something.

36. Bored to Death

Similar meaning to the idiom above. To be totally bored with a subject or situation.

37. A Dead Loss

A way of saying that something or a course of action will be completely unproductive or useless.

38. A Death Blow

Meaning that an event or activity has caused the end of something important.

39. As Certain as Death and Taxes

A way of saying that nothing in life is certain and that the only thing you can ultimately rely on occurring is that death awaits us all, and taxes will be collected.

40. To Tickle to Death

To be very pleased with a situation.

Might yet Snatch This Article From the Jaws of Death

41. Over My Dead Body

This idiom is commonly used to say that something is against your strong opposition.

42. To be Snatched From the Jaws of Death

A way of saying that someone has been rescued at the last possible moment from a very dangerous situation.

43. Toll the Death Knell

Used to describe something that signals the end of, or ruin of something.

44. To the Death

Until a person dies or is defeated.

45. Dead as a Door-nail

A way of saying that someone or something is dead. They are certainly dead.

Extinct bird. Dead as a Dodo
Extinct bird. Dead as a Dodo

More Deadly Idiomatic Expressions

46. Dead as a Dodo

To describe something that is outdated (the Dodo bird is an extinct bird).

47. Death is the Greatest Leveller

A proverb that tells us that we can take nothing of this world to our deaths. We will all be equal in death.

48. Blue Screen of Death

This phrase is often used to describe the situation a computer user finds themselves in when their computer crashes, and all they see is a blank blue screen.

49. Flogging a Dead Horse

A way of saying that it is pointless to pursue a course of action.

50. Hang on Like Grim Death

To hold onto something very tightly even though this may be very difficult.


[1] Jack, Albert. "Shaggy Dogs and Black Sheep", Penguin Books, 10.06.2018


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    • Ben Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Reed 

      18 months ago from Redcar

      Thank you Ana for your kind words. It is very pleasing that these idioms and phrases brightened your day. They may on the surface seem something of a unsettling subject, but there is laughter and a little joy to be found in them also.

    • erorantes profile image

      Ana Maria Orantes 

      18 months ago from Miami Florida

      Good morning mister Reed. I like your hub. I am always learning from the experts. You have so many idioms and phrases words. I like some of of them. I was feeling a little under the weather. I started reading your hub. Believe or not, I was smiling and some times laughing. Thank you. You did a fantastic job. Your hub is a spirit up lifting.

    • profile image


      18 months ago

      An interesting list, for sure. Death isn't something people generally like to think about, much less seriously consider. Fearing it gives an opportunity to give it the consideration we should, though many feel that is not true and refuse to do it.

      # 47 reminds of a statement I recently came across...death is the doorway to our eternal destiny. Though I know the truths about the statement I had never heard it put exactly that way. I am thankful to know that God offers life-giving freedom from both the fear and the consequences of death through Jesus the Christ.

    • Ben Reed profile imageAUTHOR

      Ben Reed 

      18 months ago from Redcar

      Thank you. I think that part of the fun with idioms is that we all use them, often without even realising it.

    • mactavers profile image


      18 months ago

      Wow, a super Hub with expressions we all use, but don't really think about the meanings.


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