phrases, sayings, proverbs and idioms at
Home button Home | Search the website Search | Phrase Dictionary | A fate worse than death

The meaning and origin of the expression: A fate worse than death

A fate worse than death

What's the meaning of the phrase 'A fate worse than death'?

Any misfortune that would make life unlivable, especially rape or loss of virginity. The phrase was formerly a euphemism for rape.

What's the origin of the phrase 'A fate worse than death'?

This phrase originally attested to the belief that a dishonoured woman was better off dead. It is still used, but ironically of late. The earlier view was expressed in Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1781:

"The matrons and virgins of Rome were exposed to injuries more dreadful, in the apprehension of chastity, than death itself."

A fate worse than deathThe current version of the phrase was used in several works from 1810 onward but was probably brought into public use via Edgar Rice Burroughs' widely read Tarzan of the Apes, 1914:

"[The ape] threw her roughly across his broad, hairy shoulders, and leaped back into the trees, bearing Jane Porter away toward a fate a thousand times worse than death."

The expression isn't used seriously with its original meaning these days. It's more often used in parody form by local journalists who use 'A fête worse than death' in reviews of church fêtes.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Browse phrases beginning with:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T UV W XYZ Full List