"died in the line of duty"

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EnglishBug

Senior Member
Chinese
What does "to die in the line of duty" mean? Does it mean that a person dies while he is working. Or it just means that a person dies becuase of duty, and he may or may not be working when he dies? The following is the sentence that I came across:

"Traffic cop Chen Lusheng’s death by choking (after drinking) follows several similarly deadly incidents elsewhere in China this year, but it has attracted particular attention because his boss claimed that Mr. Chen had died in the line of duty. "
 
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    As far as I know, it always means that the person was working at the time of his death and that the death was directly related to duties he was performing for his work.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    A police officer might be said to die in the line of duty if he is killed while attempting to help someone or prevent a crime even if he is off duty, but presumably he would still have been acting in his capacity as a peace officer.
     

    Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    With nothing but personal use to back me up, I would suggest that "in the line of duty" most often applies to occupations that offer other people some form of protection: police, fire services, military personnel, and perhaps bodyguards, but not babysitters, so maybe the phrase was created by armed adult men. :)

    And because those first three are in the employ of governments on some level, that probably figures in there somewhere.

    All of this is just surmise, as you may have noticed.
     
    I agree with Copyright. In my experience, "died (or killed) in the line of duty" is only applied to those whose work includes a component of duty or public service. Even then, it is most often applied to those whose jobs carry a risk that is directly related to the service they perform.

    A teacher killed in his classroom by a violent student would most likely not be described as "killed in the line of duty." To me, this suggests that the phrase is associated with the idea that the death was a direct result of the work, rather than bad luck, accident, or unforeseeable danger.
     
    Last edited:

    Cypherpunk

    Senior Member
    US, English
    Several of the professors that were killed during the shootings at Virginia Tech were trying to protect their students, and I distinctly recall that they used the phrase killed in the line of duty. I've also heard a similar phrase used, when several nurses were killed trying to protect patients.

    I suppose the examples caught my attention, because I am retired from the military.
     
    As soon as I wrote that, I knew someone would post an example contradicting it. :)

    Now that you mention it, Cypherpunk, I have indeed heard "died in the line of duty" used in the situations you describe.

    The association with military, fire service, and law enforcement personnel probably arises because those occupations carry the highest risk of death in the line of duty, resulting the phrase being used more often in such circumstances than for other professions.
     
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