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Sometimes, things really are serious.

The stock situation -- and Stock Phrase -- is a Matter of Life and Death. The Obstructive Bureaucrat is prone to get this flung in his face. Although considerable variation is allowed in the face of different situations: whatever the problem is (or problems are) can be used instead.

People on your side who do not take it seriously -- such as the Cavalier Competitor -- may also be told "This is Not a Game."

When the stock phrase is used erroneously, it's probably an example of Serious Business.

Not to be confused with the 1946 David Niven movie A Matter of Life and Death or the 2006 Iron Maiden album of the same name. Definitely should not be confused with the Wallace and Gromit short, "A Matter of Loaf and Death".

Examples of Matter of Life and Death include:


  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novel Ghostmaker, Dorden has authority to go into the ship's supplies, and yells at someone trying to check up on him: he is trying to get medical supplies for a soldier in critical condition.
  • The Stainless Steel Rat. The con-man title character says this while posing as a League Admiral, then quietly reprimands himself for over-playing his part.
  • In L. Jagi Lamplighter's Prospero Lost, when Miranda complains about Mab's driving, he says she had told him it was a matter of life and death.
  • In Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and The Olympians, Rachel uses this on her father to convince him that Percy is in danger.
  • In Sandy Mitchell's Cain's Last Stand, Ciaphas Cain, hearing Magos Tayber wants to talk to him, knows it's a matter of life and death because she didn't vox him.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Mort, Mort wakes up Ysabelle in the middle of the night and demands she come help him, urging that it's a matter of life and death. (Death had vanished.)
  • In Angie Sage's Septimus Heap book Flyte, Jenna insists on a message being sent because it's a matter of life and death. Later, when Marcia and Aunt Zelda quarrels, it's on the grounds that it's a matter of life and death.

Live Action TV

  Matt Parkman: [To Ted] Hey, I only came here because you said this was a matter of life and death. You can't go blowing anything more up.

 Devinoni Ral: Yes - protection. Your protection, your captain, your crew, your...edge. Yes. Now, it's a matter of life and death when you take the advantage; me...I deal in property - exchanges. Nobody gets hurt. So you tell me - which one of us would you say has more of a problem with ethics?

 Narrator: [opening narration] Twelve o'clock noon. An ordinary scene, an ordinary city. Lunchtime for thousands of ordinary people. To most of them, this hour will be a rest, a pleasant break in the day's routine. To most, but not all. To Edward Hall, time is an enemy, and the hour to come is a matter of life and death.

  • Spoofed in Get Smart. Maxwell Smart is trapped in a phone booth that's flooding with water. He tries to ring Control for help, but finds he's run out of quarters.

 Smart: Operator, this is a matter of life and death!

Operator: That's what they all say.


 Walter Sobchak: I'm saying, I see what you're getting at, Dude, he kept the money. My point is, here we are, it's shabbas, the sabbath, which I'm allowed to break only if it's a matter of life or death...

 Alex: Missus! It's a matter of life and death!

 'The Thinker statue: I'll tell you what's the matter of life and death: THAT GIRL OVER THERE.

  • The Wild Thornberrys movie. Eliza says this to her boarding school roommate when she has to leave.

Video Games

  • Fallout: A Post-Nuclear Role-Playing Game:

 Vault Dweller: I would much rather tell him in person. It's a matter of life and death.

Web Comics

Fan Fiction

  • In Fire Burns, Katherine is convincing James to let her into the Gryffindor common room. James is being difficult.

 James:Come back tomorrow. If it's that important, I'm sure you'll still remember it.

Katherine:It's very important, James.

James:Oh yeah? A matter of life and death, I suppose.

Katherine:(smiling unpleasantly) Damn straight.

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