die in harness


die in harness


  • to expire while working
  • keep working to the end
  • to pass away before retirement

Example Sentences

  1. She doesn’t want to retire – she’d rather die in harness.
  2. I fear of dying in harness before I become a soldier.
  3. I want to retire now, I don’t want to die in harness
  4. My grandfather was very hard working and brave and he died in harness.
  5. Who wants to die in harness? But I cannot stop working I like my job.


For origin of the phrase please refer to this comment by Jane Howard.

Share your opinions7 Opinions

The word “harness” was originally used for the defensive or body armour of a man-at-arms or foot-soldier and all the defensive equipment of an armed horseman, for both man and horse. The OED cites this usage back to the 14th century and it remained in common usage for centuries. The KJV bible uses it in that sense eg 1 Kings Ch 20 v11 “Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off”. 2 Maccabees Ch 15 v 11 (moved by the compilers of the KJV from the main cannon to the Apocrypha, following Luther) gives us the saying directly: “they knew that Nicanor lay dead in his harness.” Shakespeare uses it the same – “Blow, wind! Come, wrack!/At least we’ll die with harness on our back” (Macbeth V.v.51) and over time the phrase widened its usage from purely combat to the general sense of dying ‘in service’ or ‘on the job’. It does not make reference to, or derive from, the qualities of horses.

‒ Oxford April 12, 2018

Benelovent, instead of feeling sorry for us try to get your facts right. An average Indian knows at least two languages. I know three languages.

‒ Sanchita February 27, 2017

Its a reference to a ‘war horse”, when armies rode to war. A member of the military who dies while still in service dies “in harness”. A different way (poetic even) of saying the person was working up until his death and as horses are thought of as god’s most noble creature, is a way of honoring him (or her). This naturally led to the term being used in other professions as well.

Example: Joseph Radetzky, a veteran of Marengo, Wagram and other smoky battles of the Napoleonic wars, was one of the military glories of the now defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. He lived to be over 90 and died in harness. For years he fought the red-tape artists who taught that military science, like the Rock of Ages, never changed.

The measure of his success, as chief of staff and Field Marshal, may be found in the fact that during his lifetime Austria occasionally won a fight. After his death came the evil days; Austria was beaten by Louis Napoleon, by Bismarck, and, finally, in the World War. Francis Joseph, fated to rule the Austro-Hungarian Empire for some three-quarters of a century, was not born under a military star; he went forth to battle and he always- well, almost always- fell.

‒ Jane Howard January 15, 2017

I have a friend who I believe die in harness.

‒ S. Arshad Ali September 26, 2016

We also feel sorry for you guys that only language you are capable of understanding is ENGLISH! May Jesus bless you with abilities to learn other languages as well. 🙂

‒ Benelovent July 14, 2016

I feel sorry for most people that belong to South Asia as they have to learn such ridiculous idioms for IELTS and English speaking exams that literally no one even uses anymore. This is coming from someone who has been born, raised and educated within England.

‒ Amna April 4, 2016

He will die in harness but he will never give up.

‒ salma Ahmed November 29, 2014

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