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I recently heard this expression for the first time, and I'm wondering what's the correct way/s of using it, when it comes to constructing a sentence that includes it. I would like to know how "flexible" it is.

From Wiktionary (adjusted):

[Noun phrase]: hill to die on (plural hills to die on)

(idiomatic usage): An issue to pursue with wholehearted conviction and/or single-minded focus, with little or no regard to the cost.

Etymology: an allusion to the military practice of capturing/holding a hill (high ground), no matter the cost or (lack of) benefit, as in the Battle of Hamburger Hill or Last Stand Hill.

Would these be correct?

  • I think that science fiction is the best book genre and that's a hill I will die on.

  • X is a great movie. I will be dying on this hill.

  • I want to convince him not to die on that hill.

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    I'm not sure that any of these examples really represents the idiom. Apr 29, 2023 at 10:59

2 Answers 2

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The expression comes from military usage.

Wictionary
An allusion to the military practice of capturing/holding a hill (high ground), no matter the cost or (lack of) benefit, as in the Battle of Hamburger Hill or Last Stand Hill.

To take the example of The battle of Hamburger Hill: it focussed on the capture of the hill. It had little point beyond capturing the hill.

History
Hamburger Hill marked a turning point in America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. After nearly a dozen deadly assaults, on May 20 the U.S. military finally captured Hill 937, known locally as Dong Ap Bia (“the mountain of the crouching beast”). When they abandoned it just days later, controversy erupted over what many saw as a senseless loss of lives—a debate that has continued in the decades since.

Hence the idiom refers to stating, occupying and defending a position or argument beyond what is necessary or in any way beneficial in comparison with the losses incurred.

Considering your examples:

I think that science fiction is the best book genre and that's a hill I will die on.
means:
It is your opinion that science fiction is the best, and you are prepared to defend that opinion strongly and without changing it even if it means you look foolish in the face of other opinion.

X is a great movie. I will be dying on this hill.
means:
X is the best and you will accept no other opinion whatever arguments are made against you.

I want to convince him not to die on that hill.
means:
You believe he has an indefensible position or attitude and you want to persuade him not to make a fool of himself by sticking it to it at all costs; he will only lose and look foolish, or suffer detriment.

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    Some examples of ways in which the metaphor is actually used would be relevant. OP's first two examples are essentially of the form << [statement]: [that's a hill I'll die on] >> Reporter/author Ed McConnell is guilty of the wry 'No limited edition sandwich should contain egg and that's a hill I'll die on.' >> A Google search for "not to die on that hill" will provide examples of the other variant. Idioms tend to resist variation, so examples where variations are acceptable really need justifying . Apr 29, 2023 at 11:59
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AFAIK "a hill to die on" implies a fight you will have - even if having the fight will exact a heavy cost.

I've normally heard it in the negative "Its not a hill I'm willing to die on" - which means that you believe in a cause, but not enough to take an extreme position on.

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  • Hello, davidgo. OP is asking about whether the sentences including not just 'hill to die on' but suggested variants, specifically ' that's a hill I will die on', 'I will be dying on this hill' and 'I want to convince him not to die on that hill', are acceptable. Apr 29, 2023 at 16:28

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