at death's door, in serious danger of death; gravely ill: Two survivors of the crash are still at death's door.
    be death on, Informal.
    1. to be excessively strict about: That publisher is death on sloppily typed manuscripts.
    2. to be snobbish about or toward.
    3. to be able to cope with easily and successfully: The third baseman is death on pop flies.
    do to death,
    1. to kill, especially to murder.
    2. to repeat too often, to the point of becoming monotonous and boring: That theme has been done to death.
    in at the death,
    1. Fox Hunting.present at the kill.
    2. present at the climax or conclusion of a situation.
    put to death, to kill; execute.
    to death, to an extreme degree; thoroughly: sick to death of the heat.

Origin of death

before 900; Middle English deeth, Old English dēath; cognate with German Tod, Gothic dauthus; akin to Old Norse deyja to die1; see -th1
Related formspre·death, noun
Can be confuseddearth death

Synonyms for death

Antonyms for death

1. birth, life. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for at death's door



the permanent end of all functions of life in an organism or some of its cellular components
an instance of thishis death ended an era
a murder or killinghe had five deaths on his conscience
termination or destructionthe death of colonialism
a state of affairs or an experience considered as terrible as deathyour constant nagging will be the death of me
a cause or source of death
(usually capital) a personification of death, usually a skeleton or an old man holding a scythe
  1. to death or to the deathuntil deadbleed to death; a fight to the death
  2. to deathexcessivelybored to death
at death's door likely to die soon
catch one's death or catch one's death of cold informal to contract a severe cold
do to death
  1. to kill
  2. to overuse (a joke, etc) so that it no longer has any effect
in at the death
  1. present when an animal that is being hunted is caught and killed
  2. present at the finish or climax
like death warmed up informal very ill
like grim death as if afraid for one's life
put to death to kill deliberately or execute
Related formsRelated adjectives: fatal, lethal, mortalRelated prefixes: necro-, thanato-

Word Origin for death

Old English dēath; related to Old High German tōd death, Gothic dauthus
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for at death's door



Old English deað "death, dying, cause of death," in plura, "ghosts," from Proto-Germanic *dauthaz (cf. Old Saxon doth, Old Frisian dath, Dutch dood, Old High German tod, German Tod, Old Norse dauði, Danish død, Swedish död, Gothic dauþas "death"), from verbal stem *dheu- (3) "to die" (see die (v.)) + *-thuz suffix indicating "act, process, condition."

I would not that death should take me asleep. I would not have him meerly seise me, and onely declare me to be dead, but win me, and overcome me. When I must shipwrack, I would do it in a sea, where mine impotencie might have some excuse; not in a sullen weedy lake, where I could not have so much as exercise for my swimming. [John Donne, letter to Sir Henry Goodere, Sept. 1608]

Death's-head, a symbol of mortality, is from 1590s. Death row first recorded 1940s. Death knell is attested from 1814; death penalty from 1875; death rate from 1859. Slang be death on "be very good at" is from 1839. Death wish first recorded 1896. The death-watch beetle (1660s) inhabits houses, makes a ticking noise like a watch, and was superstitiously supposed to portend death.

FEW ears have escaped the noise of the death-watch, that is, the little clickling sound heard often in many rooms, somewhat resembling that of a watch; and this is conceived to be of an evil omen or prediction of some person's death: wherein notwithstanding there is nothing of rational presage or just cause of terror unto melancholy and meticulous heads. For this noise is made by a little sheathwinged grey insect, found often in wainscot benches and wood-work in the summer. [Browne, "Vulgar Errors"]
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

at death's door in Medicine




The end of life; the permanent cessation of vital bodily functions, as manifested in humans by the loss of heartbeat, the absence of spontaneous breathing, and brain death.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

at death's door in Science



The end of life of an organism or cell. In humans and animals, death is manifested by the permanent cessation of vital organic functions, including the absence of heartbeat, spontaneous breathing, and brain activity. Cells die as a result of external injury or by an orderly, programmed series of self-destructive events known as apoptosis. The most common causes of death for humans in well-developed countries are cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, certain chronic diseases such as diabetes and emphysema, lung infections, and accidents. See also brain death.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with at death's door

at death's door

On the point of dying, very ill, as in Whenever she had a bad cold she acted as though she were at death's door. The association of death with an entry way was first made in English in the late 1300s, and the phrase itself dates from the mid-1500s. Today it is often used as an exaggeration of ill health.


In addition to the idioms beginning with death

  • death and taxes, certain as
  • death knell
  • death of
  • death on

also see:

  • at death's door
  • be the death of
  • bore to death
  • catch cold (one's death)
  • fate worse than death
  • in at the death
  • kiss of death
  • look like death (warmed over)
  • matter of life and death
  • put to death
  • scare out of one's wits (to death)
  • sign one's own death warrant
  • thrill to pieces (to death)
  • tickled pink (to death)
  • to death

Also see underdead.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.