Take no prisoners

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Take no prisoners is a phrase that has been in use for hundreds of years, but only fairly recently become an idiom. We will examine the meaning of the common saying take no prisoners, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

Take no prisoners is an idiom that means to show no mercy, to be uncompromising, to be relentless, to have a firm resolve to conquer something. The expression take no prisoners was long a decision made by commanders before a battle to indicate how hard the troops should fight. To take no prisoners meant to show no mercy to the enemy, to vanquish the enemy entirely. The expression take no prisoners came into use in the mid-twentieth century as a figurative expression to mean to be ruthless, especially in business or when playing in sporting events. The term take no prisoners may be used as an adjective before a noun; in this case it is hyphenated, as in take-no-prisoners.


Citing COVID-19 cases rising “at a rapid rate,” a new, take-no-prisoners Medical Officer of Health Dr. Wajid Ahmed brought down the hammer Friday. (The Windsor Star)

Most “transportation advocates” are take-no-prisoners cycling zealots or elitist wonks who come and go by limousine (to say nothing of former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had the means to fly above it all in helicopters). (The New York Post)

But senior politicians don’t like taking unnecessary chances, and they take no prisoners. (Haaretz)

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