What Does Jaws of Death Mean?

Jaws of Death Meaning

Definition: In great danger; having a near death experience.

This expression is usually used with the prepositions in or out of. It is often used to explain that someone was saved moments before he could have died, or to emphasize how close to death a person was.

Origin of the Jaws of Death

One of this expression’s earliest uses was in the English playwright William Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night, which was written in the year 1602.

balsac the jaws of deathIt is uncertain exactly how this idiom originated, but it most likely came from the imagery of a person or animal caught in the large jaws of a dangerous beast, from which escape from death would be hard or impossible.

Examples of the Jaws of Death

Here is an example of the idiom being used by a man and his roommate,

Mario: You’ll never believe what just happened to me!

Axel: What happened?

Mario: I have just escaped from the jaws of death!

Axel: What? How?

Mario: Well, you know how it’s been so icy lately? I was walking home, and this huge truck tried to stop, but it kept sliding on the ice.

Axel: Yeah?

Mario: It couldn’t stop! It was coming right at me. I tried to run out of the way, but then I slipped and fell on the ice too!

Axel: How did you get away?

Mario: This person who was walking near me pushed me out of the way at the last second before the truck passed where I was standing. Thank goodness no one was seriously hurt!

mako the jaws of deathA mother uses the idiom before her son prepares to take his driver’s license test for the sixth time.

Mother: If you don’t pass your test this time, I’m not letting you try again.

Son: Why not?

Mother: If you’re so bad at driving that you can’t pass the test after trying six times, then you probably shouldn’t be driving.

Son: That’s not true. I just get nervous!

Mother: No. If you can’t pass now, I’ll be too scared to let you drive. I’d feel like you were entering the jaws of death every time you got behind the wheel. This is my decision. Pass now or give up driving until you move out of my house.

Son: That’s not fair!

More Examples

In this excerpt from an article about how Chinese audiences reacted to a popular movie, the writer uses the expression to explain how two characters in the movie nearly died but escaped.

  • He chortled when Owen made fun of Claire’s high heels, wondered aloud what kind of guns were being used, and cracked up when the two lead characters smooched after narrowly avoiding the jaws of death. –LA Times

The second excerpt shows the idiom being used in a quote by a man who felt as if he was in extreme danger and in a deadly situation.

  • Rehman, who was shot dead at his office in May for apparently taking blasphemy cases, said it was like “walking into the jaws of death. … People kill for 50 rupees. So why should anyone hesitate to kill in a blasphemy case?” –Washington Post


The definition of jaws of death is close to death. It is typically used to create vivid imagery of how near or inescapable death is in a given situation.