fate worse than death, a

A highly undesirable occurrence, a misfortune, as in Dean thinks driving daily during rush hour is a fate worse than death. Formerly applied quite seriously to a woman's loss of virginity, this idiom today is used hyperbolically and far more loosely. [1600s]

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