I fell on my sword: idiom usage

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Earlier today, I interviewed for a job teaching English in Spain. Wow. Sounds ama…zing right? But I messed up royally.

I fell on my sword.

Everything that could go wrong did. I was lucky to get the interview at all because I miscalculated the time difference between Spain and South Africa. I just happened to be online an hour earlier but I thought I still had an hour for preparation. I was supposed to go through the FAQs to be able to answer them in the interview. Answer them I did. Each and every one was incorrect!


My plan for preparation was eclipsed. So, I rambled on like an idiot knowing that my answers were way off. Not only that, the requirement was for suitable equipment that included audio and video checking. Failure to do so would automatically count as disqualification.

Naturally in my ill-prepared state, my camera let me down. That was on the first call. On the second call, there was no audio. The interviewer resorted to messaging me via Skype text. In that time, I checked my audio and rectified it, asking her to call again. Call number three. Success.

Winging it

She had caught me off guard. There I was with no answers at my fingertips. All my fault of course, relying on winging it just one more time. Will I ever learn?

The origin of the idiom to ‘fall on one’s sword’ dates back to Roman times, according to most of the references. In that context it meant to commit suicide.


“These days, ‘to fall on one’s sword’ doesn’t necessarily mean to commit suicide,” says Grammarphobia.com. “It can mean to sacrifice one’s career and livelihood in admitting an error, like an executive or other public figure who resigns in shame.”

It goes on, “A more watered-down usage—meaning simply to accept the blame or responsibility for something—has recently emerged.”

This is the meaning that I am using and it seems in doing so, I have committed a career limiting move and any chance of teaching English in Spain has been lost and I have likely sacrificed my livelihood.

Another common meaning is to resign from public office. But here is the most interesting piece of information I found about this idiom on phrases.org.uk.


The expression is the Anglicized equivalent of hara-kiri – the Japanese samurai custom of committing suicide by disembowelment with a sword – rather than face the dishonour of surrender.

This was a regular formalised ritual but the hara-kiri suicide – literally ‘belly cut’, is no longer performed.

“It has been known about in the West since the mid-19th century and was referred to in 1856 in Harper’s Magazine in the title of an article – Hari-kari of Japan. In that piece Harper’s used, and possibly originated, the common misspelling ‘hari-kari’,” phrase.org adds.

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