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The last ditch

Posted by Smokey Stover on May 20, 2006

In Reply to: The last ditch posted by Bob on May 20, 2006

: : What's the meaning and origin of 'the last ditch' please?

: We've discussed it before. Look in the archives, especially

The use of "last ditch" to indicate extremity is much older than World War I--but so is the use of ditches or trenches on the battlefield. The OED gives examples of some uses of it. OED, s.v. ditch: "to die in the last ditch, to die, resisting to the last (see DIE v.1 3); so to be driven to the last ditch, i.e. to the utmost extremities.... a1715 To die in the last ditch [see DIE v.1 3]. 1798 in Proc. Amer. Antiq. Soc. IX. III. 324 In War We [Citizens of Westmoreland, Virginia] know but one additional Obligation, To die in the Last Ditch or uphold our Nation. 1821 T. JEFFERSON Writ. I. 122 A government..driven to the last ditch by the universal call for liberty."
And see further, s.v. "last-ditch". You will note that most of the citations use the expression in the figurative sense. " Of opposition, resistance, etc.: maintained to the end. Of an effort, etc.: made at the last minute in an attempt to avert disaster. Also last-{sm}ditcher, one who fights to the last ditch; last-{sm}ditchery.
1909 Westm. Gaz. 30 Jan. 2/1 The only part he is likely to take in the Social Revolution is to be what may be called a last-ditcher in the attempt to resist it. 1927 Daily Express 19 Nov. 3/1 A constituency which is to be congratulated on a true last ditcher. 1928 Daily Tel. 17 July 18/3 There are few performers who have decided not to broadcast. Almost the 'last-ditcher' is perhaps Harry Tate. 1932 Mind XLI. 53 Formal Logic dies hard. It still commands the services of numbers of 'last ditchers'. 1936 'J. TEY' Shilling for Candles i. 6 'Might have walked into the water till she drowned,' said Bill, who was a last-ditcher by nature. Ibid., 'Might have died of an overdose of bulls-eyes,' said Potticary, who approved of last ditchery in Arabia but found it boring to live with. 1951 KOESTLER Age of Longing II. i. 205, I would rather have been one of the last-ditchers at Thermopylae. ..." ╔ SS ╗