beginning of the end, the

The start of a bad outcome (ruin, disaster, catastrophe, death), as in Joe's failing two of his courses was the beginning of the end; he dropped out soon afterward. This phrase, at first (16th century) used only to describe an approaching death, gained a new meaning after the French lost the battle of Leipzig in 1813 and Talleyrand said to Napoleon, “C'est le commencement de la fin” (“It's the beginning of the end”).

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