Glossary Home Idioms

Pushing up daisies

Pushing up daisies” is a popular idiom used to refer to someone who has died.

“Pushing up daisies” is also a very good example of an idiom that’s impossible to interpret without context. This is, in fact, the definition of an idiom—something that can’t be understood through an analysis of its individual parts. Context is key when it comes to “pushing up daisies.” As soon as one hears the phrase a few times in context, it starts to make sense. 

Pushing up daisies - meaning and origin


Meaning of “Pushing up daisies” 

The phrase “pushing up daisies” is used to speak about someone who has died. It is an interesting and sometimes surprising way to describe this state of being. The phrase is used colloquially, as are most idioms. This means that friends, family members, and written, informal dialogue might contain the phrase. It is also an example of a euphemism, or words that take the place of something untoward, uncomfortable, or taboo in some way.


Origin of “Pushing up daisies”

“Pushing up daisies” and variations of the same phrase with different flowers date to the mid-19th century. Some records have it appearing in 1860 while others date the idiom to earlier, sometime during the First World War. There is a wonderful example of the phrase in Wilfred Owen’s poem, ‘A Terre.’ Lines from that section of the poem read:

“I shall be one with nature, herb, and stone.”

Shelley would tell me. Shelley would be stunned;

The dullest Tommy hugs that fancy now.

“Pushing up daisies,” is their creed, you know.

An earlier reference that almost uses the phrase appeared in 1838 in a poem with the line, “And under the daisies, you’ll cock up my toes.” Earlier still, a line by Victor Hugo, the famed French novelist, reads “être mort, cela s’appelle manger des pissenlits par la racine” or “to be dead, that is called to eat dandelions by the root.”

Other sources suggest that the phrase originated in British military slang in the First World War. In a letter written by Lieutenant W.H. Roy in May of 1915, he writes these lines:

After a time, it’s got to come that you either push up the daisies and enrich the soil a bit, or else you lie still and hold up a few bedclothes for a space of time depending on the circumstances.


When to Use “Pushing up daisies”

It is appropriate to use “pushing up daisies” when one wants to speak informally about someone who passed away. The phrase should be used amongst friends and family members, rather than in a professional setting. Additionally, it is important to note that it is not appropriate to use in series or mournful circumstances. It is usually used offhandedly to refer, in a joking manner, to something that happened at a distance from the speaker or far in the past. It could be a response to a question such as “Where is Oscar Wilde today?” “Oh him, he’s pushing up daisies.” This context is far more appropriate than in contemporary circumstances of loss. One would not want to use it to explain a relative’s or friend’s death. 


Examples Sentences with “Pushing up daisies”

  • Did you ever find out what happened to her? “Oh yeah, she’s pushing up daisies now.” 
  • You better be careful, Joe, or you’ll be pushing up daisies before you know it! 
  • Have you heard about Margaret? She had an accident, and now she’s pushing up daisies! 
  • My mom would always tell me to look both ways before crossing the road, or I’d end up pushing up daisies. 
  • The old cowboy ended his days in the graveyard, pushing up daisies. 


Why Do Writers Use “Pushing up daisies?” 

The euphemism and idiom “pushing up daisies” is one of many such phrases used in dialogue to make it feel more natural. Colloquialism are an important part of writing convincing conversations and sometimes narration, depending on the point of view and style of writing. Readers who are familiar with the phrase will immediately recognize it in a piece of dialogue and know what it’s referring to. Sometimes it might be used comedically and other times more offhandedly. 


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