I tried to visualize it via Ngram plots and it indicates that the usage started somewhere around early 1760s but can"t pin-point an exact source or timeline.

You are watching: For the life of me meaning

Is there any interesting etymology behind this expression?


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OED has an entry for:

for (one"s) life (also for dear life, etc.): as if, or in order to, save one"s life.

and adds that:

Also hyperbolically in trivial use: (I cannot) for my life, (I cannot) for the life of me.

The early forms for (one"s) life and for dear life were used literally and OED"s earliest example is from c1275:

Þat he ne miȝte for his liue Iso þat man wiþ hire speke.

John Henry Grafton Grattan · The Owl and the Nightingale.

OED"s citation from 1632 might be the first idiomatic usage:

For my life I could neuer attaine to any perfect knowledge thereof.

William Lithgow · The totall discourse..of..trauayles, from Scotland, to..Europe, Asia, and Affrica


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edited Jun 15 "20 at 7:40
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