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4 Feb. When should I use the English expression “to take no prisoners?”

This English expression is commonly used in spoken language in a metaphorical sense although it derives from a much more literal usage.


The expression is used to signify that someone is very determined in doing something and has little or no regard regarding the possible consequences on other people. Generally, this disregard is for the feelings of others and is done in a rather aggressive manner.


It is suggested that this expression was first used in the 19th century in a much more literal sense as a military command meaning that the objective was to kill everyone. At this time when a battle was over the winning side would either kill all their enemies or would take them home as slaves and this is where the command “take no prisoners” derives from. It has not been established when the expression began to be used in a metaphorical sense but it is suggested that it was towards the beginning of the 20th century.


An example of the usage of this expression can be found in a quote by Mary Frances Berry, former chairwoman of the United States Commission on Civil Rights who stated “when it comes to the cause of justice, I take no prisoners and I don’t believe in compromise.”

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