Dead man walking

The phrase dead man walking is an American idiom that dates to sometime in the latter half of the twentieth century. 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.

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)