What Does Living on Borrowed Time Mean?

Living on Borrowed Time Meaning

Definition: Continuing to live while close to death; an unexpected extension of time.

Origin of Living on Borrowed Time

People use this to describe someone whom they expect to die soon. This is usually due to illness or very old age.

In this expression, the person has borrowed time from Death. People often personify Death as a man in a black hood and a black robe. The idea is that Death has come to take a person away, and that person has borrowed a little more time from Death to stay on earth.

People can sometimes use borrowed time for the limited time they have before suddenly stopping due to some reason other than death. For example, a person might be working on borrowed time before their boss inevitably fires them.

This expression originated in the latter half of the 1800s.

Examples of Living on Borrowed Time

we live on borrowed time In the following example, two friends are discussing a stressful situation.

Kerry: Hey, Christine, I’m panicking! I went to the doctor for a regular checkup, and she ran some tests. She said she’d only call me if there were something wrong.

Christine: Did she call you?

Kerry: Yes, but she just left me a message to call her back. What if I have some deadly disease? Who knows how much longer I’ll be alive. I could be living on borrowed time right now!

Christine: Try not to panic. It could be something totally different.

meaning of borrowed time In this dialogue, two friends are discussing a sick family member that one of them has.

Arlena: What’s the matter? You look upset.

Nyima: I’m just worried about my grandfather. He’s getting really old and forgetful. Also, his health wasn’t the best to begin with, and it’s just been deteriorating.

Arlena: I’m sorry to hear that. I know that’s tough.

Nyima: Yeah. My mom just told me she thinks he’s living on borrowed time, so I’m just trying to think of how to make the most of the short time together that we have left.

More Examples

The example below is from an article headline. It uses the expression to ponder if we will all die soon by an asteroid collision with earth.

  • World Asteroid Day: Are we living on borrowed time? –USA Today

This excerpt is from an article about concerns that a movie romanticizes suicide for people with disabilities.

  • No, my deepest concern is for the newly disabled or not yet well-adjusted or well-supported disabled who will be unduly seduced into relieving their relatives — and themselves — of the burden of living with a chronic condition. In short, the hazardous risk in movies like this is that it romanticizes and glamorizes an early exit for those who already feel marginalized, who feel they are living on borrowed time. –Chicago Tribune


The phrase living on borrowed time is a euphemism for likely to die soon.