Living on borrowed time


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Living on borrowed time'?

Living after the time you would have expected to have died.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Living on borrowed time'?

In 17th century England it was usual to describe the first eleven days of May as borrowed days, because in the Old Style calendar they belonged to April. Sir Thomas Browne referred to this in Pseudodoxia epidemica, 1646:

“So it is usual among us… to ascribe unto March certain borrowed days from April.”

Borrowed time isn’t from that source though – this is time ‘borrowed’ from Death, that is, after when one might have expected to have died. The term was known in the USA by the 1880s; for example, this piece from The Indiana Progress, September 1886:

“We may be care-worn and aged, forsaken of the world, living on borrowed time, useless so far as any activity is concerned, dependent on children, or friends; yet Jesus has loving acquaintance with us.”

In 1898, The English Dialect Dictionary defined the phrase:

“A man who lives on borrowed time lives on trespass-ground.”

Trend of living on borrowed time in printed material over time

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.

Gary Martin

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.