Shuffle off This Mortal Coil—Exploring the Afterlife

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Alison Page

Alison has worked full-time in the writing industry for over ten years, using her knowledge and life experience to create online content, fiction and non-fiction. Alison has published two novels and has ghost-written several non-fiction equestrian books for a client. Alison has been a full-time professional content writer for almost ten years and loves her work as a wordsmith.

Shuffle off this mortal coil simply means to die. This idiomatic expression specifically entails ridding yourself of the trials and tribulations of daily life, and dying is the only way you can truly do that.

Idioms are expressions meant to be used figuratively rather than literally. In fact, some ancient idioms have no literal meaning in modern speech. Some are specific to particular cultures, countries, or regions, so those unfamiliar with them might need help understanding their meaning. Idioms are used to give everyday speech and writing greater emphasis, vibrancy, and humor.

In this article, I explain the meaning and origin of the idiom shuffle off this mortal coil, discuss how it’s used in different contexts, and provide examples and related terms. Cap off your reading with a fun quiz to test your knowledge. Let’s get started!

Shuffle off This Mortal Coil—Exploring the Afterlife

What Does the Idiom Shuffle off This Mortal Coil Mean?

The idiom shuffle off this mortal coil means to die or pass away. It is a poetic and somewhat whimsical way of expressing the concept of departing from life. This phrase, rooted in Shakespearean language, is commonly used to convey the idea of one’s ultimate demise in a more metaphorical and evocative manner.

Although this is a somewhat archaic expression, it is still used in conversation, often with humor. My sister explained that she had recently revised her last will so that her children would be well catered to when she eventually shuffles off this mortal coil. I retorted that she’s as strong as an ox and is certainly not about to shuffle off anywhere, mortal or otherwise!

Literal Meaning vs. Figurative Meaning

The phrase shuffle off this mortal coil literally means to die or exit life, originating from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Figuratively, it is often used to describe the release from all earthly woes, problems, and sufferings, symbolizing transcendence from the physical world.

Variations of the Idiom

  • Shuffles off this mortal coil
  • Shuffled off this mortal coil
  • Shuffling off this mortal coil

How Is Shuffle off This Mortal Coil Commonly Used in Context?

The idiom shuffle off this mortal coil serves as a poetic and nuanced expression for the act of passing away. In the following sections, explore the various ways this phrase is commonly used, find examples illustrating its usage, and gain tips for effectively incorporating it into your language repertoire. 

What Are the Different Ways to Use Shuffle off This Mortal Coil?

  • Literal sense of death: Use the idiom to directly convey someone’s passing away more poetically or euphemistically. “After a long and fulfilling life, the elderly poet gracefully shuffled off this mortal coil, leaving behind a legacy of inspiring verses.”
  • Metaphorical departure: Employ the phrase metaphorically to describe the end or departure from a situation, project, or phase in life. “With the successful completion of the project, the team can now metaphorically shuffle off this mortal coil and embrace new challenges on the horizon.”
  • Dramatic effect in writing: Integrate it to add a dramatic or literary touch to written expressions, particularly in creative works or storytelling. “In the final chapter, the protagonist, facing the climax of the story, prepares to shuffle off this mortal coil, symbolizing the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.”

Where Can You Find Examples of Shuffle off This Mortal Coil?

Despite its age, you can see many examples of the idiom shuffle off this mortal coil across all kinds of media, including websites, movie scripts, chart music, hard copy magazines, newspapers, and plays.

Here are some examples of the idiom’s use in recent media:

“Here, death is bureaucratic and full of paperwork, and Thomas has been deemed insufficiently dead, lacking the appropriate exit narrative to fully shuffle off this mortal coil.” (USA Today)

“For readers who have planned to pass on an IRA, Congress thoughtfully gave you 12 days to shuffle off this mortal coil.” (The Wall Street Journal)

What Are Some Tips for Using Shuffle off This Mortal Coil Effectively?

  • Context matters: Consider the tone and context of your writing or speech. This idiom is more suited to formal or literary settings than casual conversations. 
  • Avoid overuse: Like any idiom, using it sparingly maintains its impact. Overusing it might dilute its effectiveness and make your writing seem clichéd.
  • Consider the audience: Be mindful of your audience. Some may find this idiom too formal or archaic, so gauge its appropriateness based on the readers or listeners.
  • Poetic usage: Given its poetic nature, use the idiom in a more artistic or eloquent manner. This can enhance its impact and contribute to the overall aesthetics of your writing.
  • Clarify if necessary: Depending on your audience, it might be helpful to provide context or clarification if you’re using the idiom in a way that might not be immediately clear to everyone.

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Shuffle off This Mortal Coil?

Shuffle off This Mortal Coil Ngram
Shuffle off this mortal coil usage trend.

The idiom shuffle off this mortal coil was coined by William Shakespeare and can be found in the famous “To be or not to be” soliloquy in his play, Hamlet:

 “What dreames may come, When we haue shufflel’d off this mortall coile, Must giue vs pawse.”

So, what does Hamlet mean by “shuffled off this mortal coil?”

This phrase is a clever metaphorical way of describing the act of departing from life or dying. Shakespeare used the word shuffle to suggest a nonchalant or casual movement. At the same time, mortal coil refers to the human body’s struggles and tribulations associated with earthly existence. It’s thought that the word coil implies the complex, entangled nature of human life.

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

Over time, the idiom became widely adopted and frequently used outside its original Shakespearean context. The phrase now has a more humorous or ironic use in contemporary English. However, it is still used to convey the idea of dying or facing mortality.

What Are Some Related Terms to Shuffle off This Mortal Coil?

To better understand the idiom, you might find it helpful to consider some synonyms and antonyms. These words and phrases illustrate how to use the idiom correctly, helping you understand how and when to include it in your conversation and writing.

Shuffle off This Mortal Coil—Exploring the Afterlife 1


  • Bite the dust
  • Snuff it
  • Pass away
  • Meet your maker
  • Depart this life
  • Expire
  • Perish
  • Depart this mortal realm


  • Stay alive
  • Live forever
  • Stay in the land of the living
  • Continue to exist
  • Persevere
  • Carry on

Shuffle off This Mortal Coil: Test Your Knowledge!

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What have we Learned About Shuffle off This Mortal Coil?

In conclusion, the idiom shuffle off this mortal coil is a vivid, dramatic way of expressing the concept of death. Understanding such idioms enriches our language use, bringing color, humor, and cultural nuance into everyday conversation. The origins, contextual usage, and examples explored in this article offer a deeper comprehension of this particular idiom.

Now that you’ve gained insights into shuffle off this mortal coil, don’t forget to test your understanding with our fun quiz. Harness the power of idioms and enhance your linguistic journey!