The phrase “the jaws of death” is an idiom that refers to a dangerous situation. Usually, the words “from the” or “out of” precede this expression (e.g., he was rescued out of the jaws of death).
Example: Richard was standing on the edge of a cliff when he suddenly slipped and fell off. He barely grabbed hold of the edge with one of his hands and started yelling for help. His friends rushed over and quickly pulled him up to safety. Thus, it could be said that Richard was saved from the jaws of death.
Similar: a near death experience, at death’s door
The Origin Of ‘Jaws Of Death’
Where did the phrase “jaws of death” come from? It’s origin may have something to do with dangerous wild animals because they often use their powerful jaws to kill their prey.
For example, bears, crocodiles, hippos, and lions are all examples of animals with sharp teeth and strong jaws. Just to give you an idea on how powerful these creatures can be, a crocodile’s jaw is strong enough to crush bones! Yes, these animals pack a punch, so be sure to stay away.
Sadly, it’s estimated that around 1,000 people die per year as a result of crocodiles. In Africa, hippos cause around 500 deaths per year. Dangerous, indeed.
Thus, perhaps the origin of this phrase has to do with these fearsome animals and the deadly jaws they have. After all, if someone did manage to escape from one of them, they would literally have escaped from “the jaws of death.”
Anyways, let’s talk about how old this phrase is. It has existed for at least 400 years. It was used by William Shakespeare in the play Twelfth Night, which was written around the years 1601-02:
”This youth that you see here I snatch’d one half out of the jaws of death.”
Note: There’s a film from 1976 called Mako: The Jaws of Death. While this phrase existed long before this film, it’s possible that the movie gave this idiom a bit of a bump in popularity.
- Dan was struggling to break free from his seat belt after a car accident. His life was in danger, but a stranger ran over and cut him loose, thus saving him out of the jaws of death.
- This little puppy I found was at death’s door, but my mother was able nurse him back to health.
Note: Regardless of how plausible a phrase’s origin may sound, it’s not always clear where some idioms and popular sayings come from. It’s a bit of a bummer not to know exactly how they came to be, but that’s okay! At least we can get an idea on the phrase’s age by looking at it’s earliest appearance in print or writing.