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Where did the expression "dying to..." come from?

e.g.

I'm dying to meet you.

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  • Good question. It may also be worth answering the etymology of the similar idiom, 'dying for...' which I suspect is similar.
    – Jez
    Commented Jun 20, 2011 at 7:38
  • Please show some background research.
    – Kris
    Commented Apr 12, 2018 at 9:23
  • A joke my father used to tell (too many times) whenever we drove past a cemetery: "Why do they put fences around graveyards? — Because so many people are dying to get in." Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 14:17

3 Answers 3

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I can only speculate, but this simple hyperbole was probably generated many times for the same reasons:

  • I would die to meet you. => I am dying to meet you.

as Jez mentions similar transformation happened in 'dying for...'

  • I would die to have some strawberries. => I am dying for some strawberries.

Dying to is listed in CDO as

To be dying to do something, or for something, is to be eager to do or to have it.

Etymology might be related to several paths:

  • dying wish - considered a wish that should be granted, so construct such as: "I want to meet you and I want it so much as if it was a dying wish. I am dying to see you!", though far fetched might actually be related
  • suffering because you lack something (food, love, etc..); for example you could actually and literally be dying for some food, so such use is obviously justified. From this a hyperbole can be applied to any object of desire or need.
  • I believe that it is quite natural to express strong desire by comparing it with one's own well being; to the question of "How much do you want it/that?", there is a very natural answer that means completely and that is to say "I would give my life to have it."
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I agree on the whole with Unreason's answer. I think the origin of the term is as a hyperbole of the basic statement "I am dying for [lack of/want of] something", which in turn implies a need that, unmet, is causing physical suffering and may literally result in death, as in Unreason's example of food.

I think that the similar, probably hyperbolic sentence "I would die for something" actually has a different origin than "I am dying for something".

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Yeah, I can very easily believe the expression to have its origins in a perfectly literal expression like, "The patient is dying for lack of a transfusion," or "the children are slowly dying for lack of adequate nutrition."

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