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.


Nearby words

  1. matter of course,
  2. matter of course, a,
  3. matter of fact,
  4. matter of fact, a,
  5. matter of law,
  6. matter of opinion,
  7. matter of opinion, a,
  8. matter of record,
  9. matter wave,
  10. matter waves

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