matter of life and death, a


A very urgent issue, situation, or circumstance. This expression can be used either literally, as in She told the doctor to hurry as it was a matter of life and death, or hyperbolically, as in Don't worry about finishing on time—it's hardly a matter of life and death. First recorded in 1849, it alludes to such urgency that someone's life depends on it. Although a matter of life or death would make more sense, it is rarely put that way.

QUIZZES

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL PUNCTUATION QUIZ

Punctuation marks help make writing easy to read and understand. Some of the most important ones are the period (.), comma (,), question mark (?), and exclamation point (!). How well do you know how to use them? Find out in this quiz!
Question 1 of 10
Which punctuation mark is best for this sentence? "Can I watch a movie __"
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.