take a life of its/their own

Discussion in 'English Only' started by dave_df, Sep 25, 2007.

  1. dave_df New Member

    What does it mean? It seems to have multiple meanings.


    1)They didn't give sufficient thought to how the power would take a life of its own. They didn't foresee how the power would be passed on to the offspring, ...

    2)Unfortunately misleading media reports like these take a life of their own, and start to become repeated as fact.

    3)Do you find that your books kind of take a life of their own and you follow it ? Or do you try to stick to the original plan?

    4)This idea stayed with me to the end of the piece, but as I reached the middle of the work, the music began to take a life of its own.


    Well, I'm really confused by them. It seems to me that this phrase has various meanings. so, what are they and does it have a literal meaning?

    I would really appreciate your help.
  2. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    All these are meant figuratively rather than literally. It means that something created seems to act beyond the will or design of its creator, whether it's a story that refuses to die or becomes distorted as a rumor, a song that changes or that spreads more widely than previously expected or planned, a novel where the characters do things you had not planned for them to do, etc.
    The first sentence seems to belong to science fiction or fantasy, in which case it might be meant literally, in some manner.
  3. emmader New Member

    USA English
    when something "takes a life of its own" it means that it goes beyond the control of its maker, almost making it a unique sentient being.

    so in each of these phrases the "life of its own" is referring to the fact that each thing has become the director of its own fate, in a figurative sense
  4. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    A similar phrase is "seems to have a will of its own."
  5. dave_df New Member

    Thanks, bibliolept.

    but what's the literal meaning of it? does it mean to have become alive?
  6. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    You might use the phrase "take on a life of its own" literally, but the figurative meaning is far more common.

    I suppose that if you talk about artificial intelligence, you might use "seems to have a life/will of its own" literally.
  7. dave_df New Member

    thanks for your help , emmader.
  8. redgiant Senior Member

    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Background: In a police standoff, Bobby, a member of the police SWAT team, had taken out a seemingly innocent husband that he later came to regret. The action led to a mandatory investigation by the police to see if his shot was justified. Bobby is now talking with his father over the phone about the distress.

    Does it mean the stories about Bobby's tragedy will eventually find its way to his brother's ears? Does it imply that the news might be distorted and twisted to Bobby's disadvantage when it reached his brother?
  9. pwmeek

    pwmeek Senior Member

    SE Michigan, USA
    English - American
    Rather that the story will grow as if it were (figuratively) a living thing. There is no way of predicting exactly how something will change as it grows. It might be better for Bobby or worse; the point is the growth and the unpredictability.

    So, yes, it might reach the brother's ears, but that isn't what "have a life of its own" means.
  10. redgiant Senior Member

    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    You're right. I was reading too much into it. Wondering if it's bad for him or not is like wandering off in a wasteland of speculation. It's not the main point of the phrase
  11. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    Unfortunately this phrase is not correctly expressed.
    It's important to note that there are different phrases with very different meanings:

    (a) 'To take life' means 'to kill'. The idea of this is 'take life away (from someone)'.
    For example: 'It is wrong to take life'. This means: 'It is wrong to kill'.

    (b) 'To take a life' means 'to kill a person'.
    'I could never take a life.' This means: 'I could never kill someone'.
    (a) and (b) are normally used only in reference to human life.

    (c) 'To take on life' has various meanings. One of these is 'come to life'.
    This could mean literally 'begin to live' or figuratively 'develop strongly'.
    Some internet examples:
    Hindu Goddesses
    Her black skin then took on life and became the goddess Kali.
    There, in true rock and roll style, their first compositions took on life. The ideas for songs came easily.
    Hotel History
    Wright came to Mason City and the project took on life.

    (d) 'To take on a life of its own' means 'to begin to live independently'.
    Again, this could be literal or metaphorical.
    Baltimore History
    Gradually, the new town took on a life of its own.
    So, You Think You Have Mites?
    There simply is no living organism that is called a "paper mite", and yet these
    critters are consistently blamed for ... Unfortunately, the joke took on a life of its
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2012
  12. oragne lovre Member

    California, USA
    Many thanks to wandle for your complete answer. I "google up" to find the meaning of "to take on a life of its own," stumble on this site, find your comprehensive answer, and decide to become a member just now.

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