in at the death


  1. the act of dying; the end of life; the total and permanent cessation of all the vital functions of an organism.Compare brain death.
  2. an instance of this: a death in the family; letters published after his death.
  3. the state of being dead: to lie still in death.
  4. extinction; destruction: It will mean the death of our hopes.
  5. manner of dying: a hero’s death.
  6. (usually initial capital letter) the agent of death personified, usually represented as a man or a skeleton carrying a scythe.Compare Grim Reaper.
  7. Also called spiritual death. loss or absence of spiritual life.
  8. Christian Science. the false belief that life comes to an end.
  9. bloodshed or murder: Hitler was responsible for the death of millions.
  10. a cause or occasion of death: You’ll be the death of me yet!
  11. Archaic. pestilence; plague.Compare Black Death.

  1. at death’s door, in serious danger of death; gravely ill: Two survivors of the crash are still at death’s door.
  2. be death on, Informal.
    1. to be excessively strict about: That publisher is death on sloppily typed manuscripts.
    2. to be snobbish about or toward.
    3. to be able to cope with easily and successfully: The third baseman is death on pop flies.
  3. do to death,
    1. to kill, especially to murder.
    2. to repeat too often, to the point of becoming monotonous and boring: That theme has been done to death.
  4. in at the death,
    1. Fox Hunting.present at the kill.
    2. present at the climax or conclusion of a situation.
  5. put to death, to kill; execute.
  6. to death, to an extreme degree; thoroughly: sick to death of the heat.


  1. the permanent end of all functions of life in an organism or some of its cellular components
  2. an instance of thishis death ended an era
  3. a murder or killinghe had five deaths on his conscience
  4. termination or destructionthe death of colonialism
  5. a state of affairs or an experience considered as terrible as deathyour constant nagging will be the death of me
  6. a cause or source of death
  7. (usually capital) a personification of death, usually a skeleton or an old man holding a scythe
    1. to death or to the deathuntil deadbleed to death; a fight to the death
    2. to deathexcessivelybored to death
  8. at death’s door likely to die soon
  9. catch one’s death or catch one’s death of cold informal to contract a severe cold
  10. do to death
    1. to kill
    2. to overuse (a joke, etc) so that it no longer has any effect
  11. in at the death
    1. present when an animal that is being hunted is caught and killed
    2. present at the finish or climax
  12. like death warmed up informal very ill
  13. like grim death as if afraid for one’s life
  14. put to death to kill deliberately or execute

Old English deað “death, dying, cause of death,” in plura, “ghosts,” from Proto-Germanic *dauthaz (cf. Old Saxon doth, Old Frisian dath, Dutch dood, Old High German tod, German Tod, Old Norse dauði, Danish død, Swedish död, Gothic dauþas “death”), from verbal stem *dheu- (3) “to die” (see die (v.)) + *-thuz suffix indicating “act, process, condition.”

I would not that death should take me asleep. I would not have him meerly seise me, and onely declare me to be dead, but win me, and overcome me. When I must shipwrack, I would do it in a sea, where mine impotencie might have some excuse; not in a sullen weedy lake, where I could not have so much as exercise for my swimming. [John Donne, letter to Sir Henry Goodere, Sept. 1608]

Death’s-head, a symbol of mortality, is from 1590s. Death row first recorded 1940s. Death knell is attested from 1814; death penalty from 1875; death rate from 1859. Slang be death on “be very good at” is from 1839. Death wish first recorded 1896. The death-watch beetle (1660s) inhabits houses, makes a ticking noise like a watch, and was superstitiously supposed to portend death.

FEW ears have escaped the noise of the death-watch, that is, the little clickling sound heard often in many rooms, somewhat resembling that of a watch; and this is conceived to be of an evil omen or prediction of some person’s death: wherein notwithstanding there is nothing of rational presage or just cause of terror unto melancholy and meticulous heads. For this noise is made by a little sheathwinged grey insect, found often in wainscot benches and wood-work in the summer. [Browne, “Vulgar Errors”]


  1. The end of life; the permanent cessation of vital bodily functions, as manifested in humans by the loss of heartbeat, the absence of spontaneous breathing, and brain death.

  1. The end of life of an organism or cell. In humans and animals, death is manifested by the permanent cessation of vital organic functions, including the absence of heartbeat, spontaneous breathing, and brain activity. Cells die as a result of external injury or by an orderly, programmed series of self-destructive events known as apoptosis. The most common causes of death for humans in well-developed countries are cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, certain chronic diseases such as diabetes and emphysema, lung infections, and accidents. See also brain death.

Also, in at the finish or kill. Involved in or present at the end, especially a disastrous end but sometimes merely the climax of an important event. For example, He had a hand in their breakup, but he didn’t want to be in at the death, or They’ve done really well this year, and we want to be in at the kill. These expressions originally alluded to hunters and hounds being present at the death of a fox they had run to ground. [First half of 1700s]

In addition to the idioms beginning with death

  • death and taxes, certain as
  • death knell
  • death of
  • death on

also see:

  • at death’s door
  • be the death of
  • bore to death
  • catch cold (one’s death)
  • fate worse than death
  • in at the death
  • kiss of death
  • look like death (warmed over)
  • matter of life and death
  • put to death
  • scare out of one’s wits (to death)
  • sign one’s own death warrant
  • thrill to pieces (to death)
  • tickled pink (to death)
  • to death

Also see underdead.

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