Origin of Grim Reaper
Words nearby Grim Reaper
What is the Grim Reaper?
Where does Grim Reaper come from?
One such prominent figure in European lore is the Grim Reaper, a black-robed skeleton who cuts down lives with its dreaded scythe. According to common legend, seeing the Grim Reaper standing near you, particularly if you are on your deathbed, is a clear sign that your end is near.
The depiction of death as a ghastly skeleton seems to have originated in 14th century Europe, devastated by the bubonic plague, or Black Death, which by some estimates claimed over half of the population. Originally, this personified Death was portrayed as a bare skeleton wielding various weapons, like crossbows or darts, its form eventually settling into its telltale black robe and scythe by at least the 1800s. Some early imagery even depicts the Grim Reaper in tattered white.
It’s unclear exactly when its signature features first settled into place, but they are meaningful. The black robe is mournful and monk-like, pointing to traditions of wearing black at funerals. When the Grim Reaper knocks at your door, it’s your funeral, ready or not.
The Grim Reaper’s scythe—or sickle, a farming tool used to cut down and reap wheat grass and metaphorically, harvest souls—actually predates the grim reaper himself. In Greek mythology, a scythe was wielded by the ancient Greek Kronos, the Titan god of Time, sometimes credited for influencing the Grim Reaper.
The name Grim Reaper emerges by the 1800s. One early instance comes in an 1805 issue of the magazine Music. Discussing “The Maid and the Reaper,” by William Lamson, an article notes how the titular maiden mistakes a regular reaper (farmer) with the grim reaper death, grim here meaning “sinister.”
The Grim Reaper has proved an enduring character in popular imagination. It resembles a menacing spirit in Dickens’ 1843 classic A Christmas Carol. It figures in Ingmar Bergman’s 1957 art film The Seventh Seal. It is a leading character in Terry Pratchett’s 1980–90s comic fantasy series Discworld. It stars in the 1991 comedy Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. The quirky 1998 video game Grim Fandango features a take on the Grim Reaper, as does the 2000s children’s cartoon The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and episodes of Family Guy.
The Grim Reaper is also, of course, a Halloween staple. Don’t be too alarmed if you see a Grim Reaper at your door in October; it’s probably just your neighbor Frank, dressed up as death. Oh, Frank.
How is Grim Reaper used in real life?
Outside of its imagery and iconography, the phrase Grim Reaper is often used to evoke death. If someone were to attempt a daring stunt, you could advise them to “Be careful of the Grim Reaper.” More playfully (or cruelly), a parent might warn a child, “Better eat your veggies, else the Grim Reaper will get ya.”
Both grim and reaper are so closely associated with the Grim Reaper that they can independently conjure up Mr. Death, as we see in rock band Blue Oyster Cult’s 1976 “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.”
People, companies, and even nations are sometimes likened to the Grim Reaper when they are seen as being deathlike in some way.
More examples of Grim Reaper:
“8 Servings of Fruits and Vegetables a Day Keeps the Grim Reaper Away”
—Muscleandfitness.com, May 2017
“The devil shakes a pitchfork, the grim reaper swings a scythe… So farming must be a big thing in the underworld”
—@firemouth55, August 2018
This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.
How to use Grim Reaper in a sentence
These were conversations that took a fairly grim twist pretty quickly.I Tried to Warn You About Sleazy Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2003|Vicky Ward|January 7, 2015|DAILY BEAST
The Air Force has enough MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper drones.Exclusive: U.S. Drone Fleet at ‘Breaking Point,’ Air Force Says|Dave Majumdar|January 5, 2015|DAILY BEAST
The grim instability of shelter life is hardly a recipe for success under the best of circumstances.His First Day Out Of Jail After 40 Years: Adjusting To Life Outside|Justin Rohrlich|January 3, 2015|DAILY BEAST
But if the goal is to maintain any hope—grim as it is— for serious negotiations leading to a two state solution.Why We Should Delay The Israel-Palestinian Peace Process|Aaron David Miller|December 19, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Alan Gross was in a cheery mood, having survived a grim five-year stint in a Cuban prison.Castro's Hipster Apologists Want to Keep Cuba ‘Authentically’ Poor|Michael Moynihan|December 18, 2014|DAILY BEAST
But Ulm was only the commencement of the campaign, and even after Austerlitz Napoleon pursued the enemy with grim resolution.Napoleon's Marshals|R. P. Dunn-Pattison
War turns them from making the glittering superfluities of peace to making its grim engines of destruction.The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice|Stephen Leacock
As he read, a look of surprise came over his face, and then his countenance grew stern and grim.
Taking his stand at the end of the desk, he made MacRae reiterate in detail the grim happenings of that night.Raw Gold|Bertrand W. Sinclair
By every art known to the wily Porter did he try to mislead his pursuers; but they hung on to his trail like grim death.
Cultural definitions for Grim Reaper
A figure commonly used to represent death. The Grim Reaper is a skeleton or solemn-looking man carrying a scythe, who cuts off people's lives as though he were harvesting grain.