15 Idioms for Death

death metaphors idioms and similes, explained below

Idioms are phrases or expressions whose meanings cannot be understood from the ordinary meanings of the words in them, as they convey metaphorical, rather than literal, meanings.

An example of an idiom for death is “kick the bucket.” Of course, it would be impossible to infer that this term means death, but culturally, we all know that this term means death – so, it’s an idiom.

Interestingly, as shown in the historical graph below, this idiom has been around since about the early 1800s and has only increased in popularity in recent years:

chrisAbout the Author: has a PhD in Education. He has been a teacher in schools and universities and has taught English as a Second Language in Colombia. He is former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.

Idioms for Death

1. Kick the Bucket

Origin: Possibly related to a method of execution or slaughtering animals, where the person or animal kicks a bucket while hanging.

In a sentence: “After a long illness, he finally kicked the bucket.”

2. Bite the Dust

Origin: Likely originating from the image of a person falling dead to the ground.

In a sentence: “The cowboy in the movie bit the dust after a duel.”

3. Pushing Up Daisies

Origin: Refers to the notion that one is beneath the ground, fertilizing the soil and helping flowers to grow.

In a sentence: “He’s been pushing up daisies for a couple of decades now.”

See Also: Metaphors for Death

4. Cash in One’s Chips

Origin: Originates from cashing in gambling chips when leaving a casino game.

In a sentence: “After a fierce battle with disease, she cashed in her chips.”

5. Meet One’s Maker

Origin: Derived from the religious belief of meeting God or a creator after death.

In a sentence: “In the tragic accident, many met their maker.”

6. Six Feet Under

Origin: Refers to the traditional depth of a grave.

In a sentence: “His grandpa has been six feet under for five years.”

See Also: Similes for Death

7. Give Up the Ghost

Origin: Has biblical origins, particularly in the King James Bible, referencing the spirit leaving the body.

In a sentence: “The old machinery finally gave up the ghost.”

8. The Big Sleep

Origin: A euphemism for death, popularized by Raymond Chandler’s novel of the same name.

In a sentence: “After a long life, she entered the big sleep peacefully.”

9. Buy the Farm

Origin: Likely relates to pilots, where a crash in a farm field could result in the farmer claiming damages, symbolically “buying” the farm.

In a sentence: “He bought the farm during the final mission of the war.”

10. Shuffle Off This Mortal Coil

Origin: A phrase from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” referencing the act of leaving the troubles of earthly life.

In a sentence: “He shuffled off this mortal coil after a lengthy ailment.”

11. Cross the Great Divide

Origin: Represents death as a crossing to another world, the “great divide” separating life and death.

In a sentence: “The venerable writer crossed the great divide last autumn.”

12. Go to One’s Reward

Origin: Suggests transitioning to an afterlife to receive due reward or punishment.

In a sentence: “The philanthropist went to her reward surrounded by loved ones.”

13. Sleep with the Fishes

Origin: Popularized by “The Godfather,” it implies a body being disposed of in water.

In a sentence: “Betray the mafia, and you might sleep with the fishes.”

14. Meet One’s Waterloo

Origin: Refers to Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.

In a sentence: “The once-dominant chess player met his Waterloo against the rookie.”

15. Pop One’s Clogs

Origin: A British expression, possibly related to an old sense of “pop” meaning to pawn, implying death as pawning one’s clogs.

In a sentence: “He popped his clogs after celebrating his 100th birthday.”

Comprehension Quiz for Students

1. What is an idiom?

A. A literal statement easily understood from its words
B. A phrase or expression with a metaphorical meaning separate from its literal words
C. A scientific formula
D. A type of animal

2. Why are idioms often challenging for non-native speakers to understand?

A. Because idioms usually involve advanced grammar rules
B. Because the metaphorical meanings of idioms don’t directly relate to the literal meanings of the words used
C. Because idioms always use old-fashioned language
D. Because idioms are never used in modern conversation

3. Which idiom has an origin related to a famous battle?

A. Meet One’s Waterloo
B. Give Up the Ghost
C. Pushing Up Daisies
D. The Big Sleep

4. What is the origin of the idiom “kick the bucket”?

A. Related to soccer players
B. Refers to bucket-kicking competitions
C. Possibly related to a method of execution or slaughtering animals
D. Originated from bucket collectors

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