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To die for

April 10, 2013

Last week I was in the frozen food section of Sainsbury’s, wondering whether to buy some Linda McCartney Mozzarella Burgers, and had got as far as reading the ingredients on the back of the packet when a woman sidled up to me and said: “I’d pop them in my trolley if I were you – they’re to die for!”

I’ve never been happy with this expression. The very first time I heard it I thought it was stupid, and time and familiarity have done nothing to change my mind. For a start, it just sounds wrong. Isn’t the more natural expression ‘worth dying for’?

And then it is so often used about totally inappropriate objects. No burger is ‘to die for’, let alone a vegetarian one. All right, I know that that it’s supposed to be hyperbolic. But it still seems to me to be a misplaced use of hyperbole. The expression just doesn’t make sense. You enjoy something so much that you die to get it and then can’t enjoy it any more? That’s counter-productive.

When people in real life do actually die for things – a cause, a nation, an ideal, a religious faith – they die for the sake of that thing. It doesn’t matter that once they are dead they will no longer be able to appreciate the cause, nation, etc. The point is that it’s greater than them and will outlive them. But none of this could be true of a Linda McCartney Mozzarella Burger, or any of the other trivially enjoyable things we’re told are to die for. The enjoyment dies with you. 

Is it only women who use this expression, by the way? I have never heard a man use it.

I bought the Linda McCartney Mozzarella Burgers in the end. My wife said they were quite nice. 

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  1. Jams O'Donnell permalink

    Interesting point about gender specific phrases. I’ve never heard a man say ‘Ah, bless’ or, I think, ‘Well done, you!’. Perhaps a topic for the future?

  2. Eldgrím Sejðerúna permalink

    In the Disney cartoon adventure .”the Lion King”, young Simba asks his uncle, Scar, if a certain surprise is something likeable.

    Scar, in his own deadpan manner, answers;
    – Simba, it’s to die for…

    Of course, the reason for his anwwer is twofold;
    1. the creators of the film pointedly made Scar effeminate
    2. the actual surprise is a herd of stampeding wildebeest, directed straight at Simba.

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