A fate worse than death

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A fate worse than death is a phrase that was popularized in a novel around the turn of the twentieth century. A fate worse than death is an idiom, which is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will examine the definition of this phrase, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A fate worse than death describes something that is too horrible to bear. A person would prefer to die rather than endure something he described as a fate worse than death. This phrase first appeared around 1810, but was popularized by the novel Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, published in 1914: “[The ape] threw her roughly across his broad, hairy shoulders, and leaped back into the trees, bearing Jane Porter away toward a fate a thousand times worse than death.” In its early use, a fate worse than death referred to the rape of a woman or the taking of her virginity, reflecting the patriarchy’s idea that it was better for a woman to be dead rather than sexually impure. Today, the idiom a fate worse than death is most often used in a humorous way, describing something that is merely embarrassing, though it may describe any fate that is too horrible to bear.


And if you consider being pulled up on stage a fate worse than death, well, at least we were given the opportunity for sweet revenge. (The Advertiser)

A FATE worse than death” is a journalistic cliché, used this week alone to describe a visit to the dentist (in a British newspaper) and the plot arc of a character in J.K. Rowling’s new “Harry Potter” play (in an American magazine). (The Economist)

Death row is a fate worse than death. (Florida Today)

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