What is the origin of the phrase "Given up the ghost"?

e.g. "After 10 years, my DVD player has finally given up the ghost."

Does it have a religious connotation?

  • It's hard to see how this expression could have avoided being invented almost immediately after language was invented. The concept of dead people producing ghosts is found in many cultures, and hence the expression likely goes back thousands of years. – Hot Licks May 13 '15 at 0:54
  • electronics? When electronic devices get fried, they let off smoke, i.e. they "give up the ghost" see 2nd paragraph of en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_smoke why not? – Ryan Dec 13 '18 at 4:15

Ghost can describe a person’s soul or spirit (if you believe in such things), so if you give it up, possibly to some higher authority, you no longer have it and you die. Its use in that sense is very old, but the expression is probably more used now to describe less dramatic events, as in your example.

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    Similarly, many electronic devices are powered by magic smoke. When the magic smoke leaves them, they no longer work. – mgb May 10 '12 at 15:46

It has a religious source:

And Jesus cried with a loud voice, and gave up the ghost. — Mark 15:37 (KJV) (BibleGateway)

However, it doesn't have a religious connotation in everyday use.

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    Which Bible translation is that? The NIV, NCV and NKJV don't translate it that way. – Urbycoz May 10 '12 at 8:24
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    It's from KJ21 (21st Century King James Version) and the KJV. – tanantish May 10 '12 at 10:04
  • Yes, King James. – Matthew Frederick May 10 '12 at 16:55

Initially, I thought it's a bad translation from German, because German does have this slightly colloquial way of expressing that something breaks.

However, according to Wiktionary, the phrase is from the King James version of the Bible, Mk 15,37.

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    So presumably it comes from the Greek, since that was the original language of the New Testament. – Urbycoz May 10 '12 at 14:49

There were Bible translations before the KJV, and this synonym for death appears in numerous places in Tyndale (1534). For example, Acts 5:5 reads: "When Ananias herde these wordes, he fell doune and gave vp the goost." Cf. Matthew 27:50: "Iesus cryed agayne with a lowde voyce and yelded vp the goost."


It appears in Euripides' The Medea, from 431 BCE, hence the origin predates the bible by nearly five centuries, at minimum.

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    Can you give a link to support the appearance? – Nicole Apr 18 '15 at 2:37
  • Not even a link necessarily, but some sort of citation with a quotation would be a great addition here – otherwise, we don't know what precisely you are referring to (it's clearly not identical to the English phrase "give up the ghost," since Medea is a Greek play). – herisson Jul 27 '15 at 21:39

http://biblehub.com/matthew/27-50.htm is a link that says when Jesus cried out in a loud voice he yeild the ghost

  • Hi Christopher, welcome to ELU! Other answers have already cited the Bible, though not this particular passage. I would also recommend you view the How to Answer page in the FAQ for what constitutes a good answer. Thanks! – Erich May 13 '15 at 2:31
  • Here is the Greek parallel of Matthew 27:50 biblehub.com/text/matthew/27-50.htm – rogermue Jul 28 '15 at 2:11

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