The Hill you Want to Die on Idiom Definition

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

The hill you want to die on stems from 20th-century American literary works related to military origins. It is often used in a questioning form to ask if an opinion or action is truly worth the effort.  

It also can be used to strengthen an argument further; that something is important enough to die upon that hill. In this case, the hill is meant to represent a struggle worth fighting for.

Take a look at how it is used and where it came from below so you can use it effectively as well. 

What Does the Hill You Want to Die On Mean?

The idiom, the hill you want to die on, can be used in two ways. It is either used to help explain how important something is that you would die for it or used as a question to help warn somebody to think more deeply about whether their strong opinion or feelings are worth it. 


hill to die on trend

The hill to die on can also be used as the hill you want to climb or the mountain you are willing to die on. It first shows up in the early 1900s but isn’t seen again until the late 1930s, when it becomes more commonly used.

The earliest use may be attributed to a Protestant Biblical interpretation and subsequent republication of Matthew 7:6. Still, this use did not withstand the test of time and faded into obscurity shortly afterward. 

It became more popular at the tail end of World War II, and many references suggest it became a military term to explain the hill soldiers were willing to defend and die upon.

This is supported by Ernest Hemingway’s novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls that describes a conversational passage that discusses how many men in military history have used a hill to die on. 

This is referencing the holding of high ground, a common military maneuver that places those upon it in a strategic position. It also can make them a target.

Published in 1940, the novel was semi-autobiographical in that Hemingway had served as an ambulance driver in Italy, and many of his observations and musings of the war were reflected within his fictional storyline. 

Examples In A Sentence

So it’s certainly fair to say your piece to him once, out loud, clearly, then listen to his answer, then use it to decide whether his clothes are the hill you want to die on. (The Washington Post)

If you have a supportive and doting partner, is this really the hill you want to die on while quibbling over semantics? (Time Magazine)

“Cautionary note to Democrats and the media: The golf simulator that President Trump installed in the White House to replace the less sophisticated one President Obama installed in the White House is not the hill you want to die on.” — Dylan Byers, media reporter, NBC. (The Daily Caller)

“Things change, society evolves, and you want to get hung up on a word that hurts people’s feelings – that’s the hill you want to die on?” (BeatRoute Magazine)

Let’s Review

As defined, the phrase suggests that we choose our battles or hill we are willing to die upon. It can be either suggestive of a strong opinion or to serve as a warning.

Even though the origins are not fully clear, it most often shows up in military references in its early use.

Although not a very old phrase, it is well understood when used to point out that one should think thoroughly about a topic and question if it is worth pursuing.

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