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The meaning and origin of the expression: Ashes to ashes

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Ashes to ashes

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Meaning

We come from dust; we return to dust.

Origin

'Ashes to ashes' derives from the English Burial Service. The text of that service is adapted from the Biblical text, Genesis 3:19 (King James Version):

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

The 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer indicated the manner and text of the burial service:

Then, while the earth shall be cast upon the Body by some standing by, the Priest shall say,

Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God of his great mercy to take unto himself the soul of our dear brother here departed, we therefore commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body, that it may be like unto his glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself.

The term has been used frequently in literature and song lyrics. Ashes to Ashes is the title of a 2009 BBC television series. It was also used as a song title by David Bowie in 1980, which included one of his best-known lyrics:

Ashes to ashes, funk to funky
We know Major Tom's a junkie