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Etymology (Meaning of Words)/Origin of phrase "death before dishonour"


Huck24 wrote at 2013-05-01 15:25:45
The phrase exists in many cultures and settings. One of which, and perhaps the most renowned, originates from Japanese 'Bushido' (Warrior Code) where one would choose the honorable option of dying in battle instead of suffering the shame of defeat/surrender.

Alternatively, (...and there's a small chance I'm mistaken here) the phrase was said about Samurai who failed to fulfill their duty as protectors of their masters ('Ronin'), and rather of living a life of shame, they chose to end it instead.

Matt Rulli wrote at 2014-07-22 20:21:55

"Death before dishonor."

I used to hear this phrase a lot when I was in the Marines.

Interestingly enough, the origins of the phrase come from an ancient Hindu epic, 'The Mahabharata'. More specifically, it comes from the section often referred to as the 'Bhagavad Gita', or 'The Song of God'. (FACT- The Mahabharata is the longest epic poem ever written. Containing nearly 1.8 million individual words, it is about 10 times longer than Homer's 'Illiad' and 'Odyssey' combined.)

In the story, the prince Arjuna, is sitting in a chariot between two factions of his own family that are about to go to war over a land dispute. As the prince despairs over the prospect of killing his own family members, he engages in a deep conversation with his chariot driver (who just so happens to be God in the human form). At one point during this discussion, Krishna (God), tells Arjuna that if he leaves the battlefield before the fight even begins, the people will call him a coward and he will tarnish his reputation in society.

"If, however, you do not perform your religious duty of fighting, then you will certainly incur sins for neglecting your duties and thus lose your reputation as a fighter.

People will always speak of your infamy, and for a respectable person, DISHONOR IS WORSE THAN DEATH."

--Bhagavad Gita 2.33-34

Considering that the most widely accepted date of the final authorship of 'The Mahabharata' is around the 4th century BCE, and the stories that were eventually compiled into the epic date back to circa the 8th and 9th centuries BCE, I believe this reference predates the time of Julius Cesar by 300-800 years.  

Etymology (Meaning of Words)

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Carol Pozefsky


Etymology: The origins of English words and phrases. Anchor/Reporter NBC and CBS Networks. News Director 3 Regional Radio Stations.

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