Previous Page

Die-Hard : Phrases


A person who holds stubbornly to a minority view, in defiance of the circumstances.


The title of the 1988 film Die Hard was chosen to signify both the 'hardness' of the lead character and the difficulty that he and the bad guys had in killing each other. In choosing not to hyphenate 'die-hard', which is the currently accepted spelling, they reverted to the original meaning of the term. To 'die hard' was recorded in a 1703, in Psychologia: or, an Account of the Nature of the Rational Soul. The text argues the pros and cons of a condemned man's approach to death:

Against this Reason he [William Coward] urges the case of those that die hard, as they call it, at Tyburn who will therefore, according to him , out-brave the Terrors of the Lord.

Tyburn, near what is now Marble Arch, was the principal location for public hangings until 1785. The meaning there was clear - to 'die hard' was to die reluctantly, resisting to the end.

The 'drop' method of hanging wasn't then in use and hanging was sometimes a prolonged affair. There are records that those who preferred to take the opposite course to the 'die hards' paid people to hang onto their legs so that they died quickly. There's no evidence however for the commonly repeated notion that this is the derivation of the phrase 'pulling one's leg'.

The wider use of the term came into being in the following century. At the Battle of Albuhera, in the Peninsula War, in 1811. William Inglis, the commander of the British 57th Regiment of Foot ordered all ranks to ‘die hard’. i.e. to fight until the last. The regiment later became known as the Die-hards

In the early 20th century, 'die-hard' was more usually used to describe a member of the political faction who were prepared to 'die in the last ditch' in their resistance to the Home Rule Bill of 1912. In 1922, the meaning took a step away from actual deaths when the members of the Conservative Party who followed the leadership of the Marquess of Salisbury named themselves 'The Die-hards'.

Like 'zigzag', 'meanwhile', and countless other terms which are coined as two words and later become hyphenated and then merge into a single word, the 'diehard' spelling will probably begin to be preferred before long.

Phrases Index

From Die-Hard to HOME PAGE