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"If one still refused to lie down and die, he lost, or loosed, his temper. His temper was like a red dog, and he always had it close to hand."

What is the meaning of "lie down and die"? Is it a phrase?

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Lie down and die, or sit down and die = give up

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It's an odd couple of sentences, so I looked for some context. Here it is:

Like all men not really up to their job, he was a stickler for externals and petty quotidian things; and in lieu of an intellect he had accumulated an armoury of capitalized key-words like Discipline and Tradition and Responsibility. If I ever dared – I seldom did – to argue with him, he would produce one of these totem words and cosh me with it, as no doubt in similar circumstances he quelled his subalterns. If one still refused to lie down and die, he lost, or loosed, his temper. His temper was like a red dog, and he always had it close to hand.

This is from The Magus by John Fowles.

In this case, it means "give up arguing." That is, if anyone dares to argue against him, he employs the tactic of "coshing" one with a "totem word". If that tactic fails (i.e., the arguer refuses to concede defeat; refusing figuratively to "lie down and die"), he gets angry.

  • Out of context, the referent for he is ambiguous, either referring to one [who] still refused to lie down and die or some hence unnamed third party. The context clearly indicates that the referent is that (still) unnamed third party. – Paul Rowe Jun 15 '15 at 22:26
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    @PaulRowe just so. That's why I looked up the source. – phoog Jun 15 '15 at 22:27

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