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Dead man walking

  • The phrase dead man walking is an American idiom that dates to sometime in the latter half of the twentieth century. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom dead man walking, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    Dead man walking is a label used for someone who is doomed, someone whose days are numbered in some capacity, someone without a future in a certain situation. For instance, an employee who has submitted his two-week notice but is still working in his position may be considered a dead man walking. A senior in high school who has completed all his course work but still must attend school for a few days is considered a dead man walking. In these examples, the term dead man walking is somewhat humorous. However, the origin of the idiom dead man walking is anything but humorous. It came into use in the American prison system in the 1900s to mean a man who is condemned to death or is slated for execution. The idiom dead man walking was popularized by the book and movie The Green Mile in the 1990s, as well as the nonfiction book about the death penalty by Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Man Walking.

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    Examples

    Dead man walking: the day hustler Michael McGurk predicted his own death (The Sydney Morning Herald)

    Our say | Perhaps the mayor is no dead man walking after all (The Western Advocate)

    ‘I knew I was a dead man walking’ – Collie O’Neill opens up on his UCD departure to LOI Weekly (The Independent)

    With his wrists and ankles shackled, Abdigani Faisal Hussein believed he was a dead man walking last year when federal agents marched him and dozens of other immigrants with active deportation orders toward a plane waiting outside a Louisiana detention center. (The Press Herald)


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