I'm looking for an English equivalent to the German "Einen Tod muss man sterben" ("One has to die one death"). As far as I know the literal translation is not in use.

It refers to a situation in which there are several options, but all of them include an unavoidable, very adverse component. This adverse factor is so inherent to the situation that it is compared to death, which is an unavoidable part of life - one may just chose which kind of death one wants to die.

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    I don't speak German, but it is possible that this idiom is equivalent to "Damned if you do, damned if you don't"? – Sawbones Jul 29 '15 at 18:19
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    I don't know what contexts the Germans use that phrase in, but perhaps it's equivalent to A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do or Everybody's gotta die sometime. – FumbleFingers Jul 29 '15 at 18:24
  • Perhaps you can find an adequate answer to your question by scouring the Wikipedia entry on expressions related to death. – Jake Regier Jul 29 '15 at 18:50
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    Let's not forget "Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once." (Some old English guy wrote that, I understand.) – Hot Licks Jul 29 '15 at 21:16
  • @Sawbones That's almost exactly it. It only appears to be missing that there may be more than two options. – mafu Jul 30 '15 at 10:43

I don't believe we have an idiom exactly like that, but the following seem related:

  • 'To be between a rock and a hard place' - To be in an impossible dilemma, facing two undesirable choices.

  • 'To be between the devil and the deep blue sea' - As above. Rarer.

  • 'Damned if you do, damned if you don't' - Facing a possible action, with negative consequences if it is taken, and (different) negative consequences if it is not.

  • 'Lesser of two evils' - The least unappealing of two unpleasant options.

  • 'Any port in a storm' - A situation so bad that any solution is acceptable.

  • 'To be on the horns of dilemma' - Similar to the German phrase you describe. Perhaps the closest translation here, but the idiom is quite rarely used.


To keep the idea of death:

Pick your poison.

  • Great idea and even almost 'literally' equivalent :) – mafu Jul 30 '15 at 10:51

There is a widely used trope in the US, it is a good day to die. Attributed (probably falsely) to Crazy Horse, an American Indian leader, to suggest that the warriors were prepared to go to battle even though death was likely.

Numerous film and literary works have co-opted the phrase, or parts of it, often as a title.

It is reminiscent of the Latin phrase often translated as Hail Emperor, we who are about to die salute you. Ironically, some historians report that the combatants uttering the phrase then sought to avoid battle but were spurred on by the emperor.

  • Actually, the gladiators said " those who will die, salute you" (morituri te salutant). They never acknowledged their own death or failure, but were just required to all state it (since some of them would). It's similar to how saying "may the best man win" to your opponent before a match doesn't mean you acknowledge you expect to lose. – Flater Jul 30 '15 at 10:50
  • @Flater According to the linked reference, both versions are reported. If the good day to die quote is real, I suspect there may have been some companions of the speaker who disagreed. – bib Jul 30 '15 at 11:53

This won't end well. Regardless of what you do, the results will be bad. It's usually used slightly ironically, in the sense that the speaker believes that the actor really ought to know what's going to happen.

  • I think the usage is actually quite similar, though it lacks the 'various options' character. – mafu Jul 30 '15 at 10:46

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