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At death’s door

the act of ; the end of life; the total and permanent cessation of all the vital functions of an organism.
Compare .
an instance of this:
a death in the family; letters published after his death.
the state of being dead:
to lie still in death.
extinction; destruction:
It will mean the death of our hopes.
manner of dying:
a hero’s death.
(usually initial capital letter) the agent of death personified, usually represented as a man or a skeleton carrying a scythe.
Compare .
Also called spiritual death. loss or absence of spiritual life.
Christian Science. the false belief that life comes to an end.
bloodshed or murder:
Hitler was responsible for the death of millions.
a cause or occasion of death:
You’ll be the death of me yet!
Archaic. pestilence; plague.
Compare .
at death’s door, in serious danger of death; gravely ill:
Two survivors of the crash are still at death’s door.
be death on, Informal.

to be excessively strict about:
That publisher is death on sloppily typed manuscripts.
to be snobbish about or toward.
to be able to cope with easily and successfully:
The third baseman is death on pop flies.

do to death,

to kill, especially to murder.
to repeat too often, to the point of becoming monotonous and boring:
That theme has been done to death.

in at the death,

Fox Hunting. present at the kill.
present at the climax or conclusion of a situation.

put to death, to kill; execute.
to death, to an extreme degree; thoroughly:
sick to death of the heat.
the permanent end of all functions of life in an organism or some of its cellular components
an instance of this: his death ended an era
a murder or killing: he had five deaths on his conscience
termination or destruction: the death of colonialism
a state of affairs or an experience considered as terrible as death: your constant nagging will be the death of me
a cause or source of death
(usually capital) a personification of death, usually a skeleton or an old man holding a scythe

to death, to the death, until dead: bleed to death, a fight to the death
to death, excessively: bored to death

at death’s door, likely to die soon
(informal) catch one’s death, catch one’s death of cold, to contract a severe cold
do to death

to kill
to overuse (a joke, etc) so that it no longer has any effect

in at the death

present when an animal that is being hunted is caught and killed
present at the finish or climax

(informal) like death warmed up, very ill
like grim death, as if afraid for one’s life
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”]

death (děth)
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.
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.

Related Terms

kiss of death, look like death warmed over, sudden death

may be simply defined as the termination of life. It is represented under a variety of aspects in Scripture: (1.) “The dust shall return to the earth as it was” (Eccl. 12:7). (2.) “Thou takest away their breath, they die” (Ps. 104:29). (3.) It is the dissolution of “our earthly house of this tabernacle” (2 Cor. 5:1); the “putting off this tabernacle” (2 Pet. 1:13, 14). (4.) Being “unclothed” (2 Cor. 5:3, 4). (5.) “Falling on sleep” (Ps. 76:5; Jer. 51:39; Acts 13:36; 2 Pet. 3:9. (6.) “I go whence I shall not return” (Job 10:21); “Make me to know mine end” (Ps. 39:4); “to depart” (Phil. 1:23). The grave is represented as “the gates of death” (Job 38:17; Ps. 9:13; 107:18). The gloomy silence of the grave is spoken of under the figure of the “shadow of death” (Jer. 2:6). Death is the effect of sin (Heb. 2:14), and not a “debt of nature.” It is but once (9:27), universal (Gen. 3:19), necessary (Luke 2:28-30). Jesus has by his own death taken away its sting for all his followers (1 Cor. 15:55-57). There is a spiritual death in trespasses and sins, i.e., the death of the soul under the power of sin (Rom. 8:6; Eph. 2:1, 3; Col. 2:13). The “second death” (Rev. 2:11) is the everlasting perdition of the wicked (Rev. 21:8), and “second” in respect to natural or temporal death. THE DEATH OF CHRIST is the procuring cause incidentally of all the blessings men enjoy on earth. But specially it is the procuring cause of the actual salvation of all his people, together with all the means that lead thereto. It does not make their salvation merely possible, but certain (Matt. 18:11; Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 1:7; 2:16; Rom. 8:32-35).

On the point of dying, very ill, as in Whenever she had a bad cold she acted as though she were at death’s door. The association of death with an entry way was first made in English in the late 1300s, and the phrase itself dates from the mid-1500s. Today it is often used as an exaggeration of ill health.

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 under:


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