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Hi everybody!

First of all, I have to thank all of you who are so patient with these questions. I owe you so much!

I have a problem with the following expression:

His shirt was starched within an inch of it life.

Does this mean that the shirt was too starched?
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Hi, Antonia,

let me try...

To me it means the shirt was as starched as it could ever be. Had it been more starched, it would have died.Emotion: smile Assuming a shirt could die!
The comment is of course ironical, but the irony is addressed to the wearer, not to the shirt (!), and Yes, the person who said this probably thought the shirt was too starched!
PS: you wrote it right in your text, but not in the title: it's "within an inch of its life"!
Hi, Pieanne,
Yes, you are right, I wrote a definite article incorrectly.
English is a great language to play with, it has so many possibilities! And it drives me mad sometimes. I guess that's why translators's life expectancy is below averageEmotion: smile
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Yes, I DO love English too...
I'm glad I'm not a translator!
I wonder what the origin of this phrase could be.

Wild guess:

Was it originally a horticultural metaphor? e.g. imagine that the row of *** is a stem or branch of a plant:

*** (= stem or branch)
A............................................B............C....D..........................E

A to E is the existing stem. E is the tip.

You want to cut back the stem.

If you cut the stem back to any point between A and B, it will die.

If you cut the stem back to any point after B, it will survive.

Point B is therefore the point at which 'its life' is safe.

The distance between B and D is 1 inch.

Any point between B and D is therefore 'within an inch of its life'.

If you cut the stem back to C, you will therefore have 'cut it back to within an inch of its life'.

Only a wild guess, though.

MrP
Or maybe when being shot in the heart meant instant death (still does, I guess). An inch around the heart could make all the difference ...
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Oh yes, that's much better.

Avoids the need for diagrams, too.

MrP
Yes, and you wipe the blood easily...