sleep with the fishes: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘sleep with the fishes’ mean?

The idiom "sleep with the fishes" means to be killed or murdered, often by being thrown into a body of water. It is a euphemism that originated from Mafia culture and is used to imply a violent and permanent end.

Idiom Explorer

Dark Origins

sleep-with-idiom-meaning-and-origin/">sleep with the fishes is an idiom that originated in the criminal underworld of the United States. It has a literal meaning referring to the act of someone being killed and their body being disposed of by throwing it into a body of water where it will be eaten by marine life or sink to the bottom.

The phrase gained notoriety through its use in popular culture, particularly in movies and television shows depicting organized crime. It has become a symbol of violence and death, often used to imply that someone has met a grim fate or has been eliminated by powerful figures within the criminal world.

While its origins are unclear, the idiom is believed to have emerged in the early 20th century, possibly influenced by the practice of disposing of bodies in bodies of water. Criminals used this method to conceal evidence and evade law enforcement.

The idiom gained further popularity through its use in the classic film "The Godfather" (1972) directed by Francis Ford Coppola. In one memorable scene, the character Clemenza advises another character to "leave the gun, take the cannoli" after carrying out a murder. He then adds, "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes," using the idiom to imply that Luca Brasi has been killed and disposed of in the ocean.

Since then, the idiom has been widely used in art and media to connote violence or death. It has also entered everyday language, colloquially referring to someone who has died or been eliminated in some way.

The gangster fishes sleep soundly after their crime spree.

The idiom sleep with the fishes has deep roots in the criminal underworld and has gained significant cultural significance through its use in popular media. It now represents a sense of finality and irreversible consequences. It has become a powerful metaphor, symbolizing the ultimate fate awaiting those who cross certain boundaries or become entangled in dangerous situations.

While the phrase may carry sinister connotations, it also invites speculation and imagination, leaving room for interpretive possibilities and lingering questions about the mysteries of human behavior and the consequences of our actions.

The idiom sleep with is a related phrase that carries a different meaning. When used in the context of relationships, it refers to two people engaging in sexual activity. This phrase is distinct from sleep with the fishes and does not share the same implications of violence or death. Instead, it focuses on intimacy and physical connection.

Another related phrase is sleep together, which also denotes two people engaging in sexual activity. This phrase carries a similar meaning to sleep with but is often used in a more intimate or romantic context. It emphasizes the emotional connection between individuals and suggests a deeper level of intimacy.

The word sleep by itself is often used metaphorically to describe a state of rest or inactivity. It can be used to convey a temporary pause or break, as in the phrase "let me sleep on it" meaning to take time to consider or reflect before making a decision. Sleep can also refer to the state of being asleep, representing a period of rest and rejuvenation.

The idiom wet the bed has no direct connection to sleep with the fishes, but it does involve the act of sleeping. This phrase is often used to refer to the act of unintentionally urinating while asleep, particularly in children. It can also be used metaphorically to describe someone who makes a mistake or fails in a significant way.

Finally, the phrase sleep in denotes the act of staying in bed later than usual or intentionally sleeping past the typical waking time. This phrase is often associated with relaxation and indulgence, providing an opportunity to rest and recharge without the usual responsibilities or commitments.

Example usage

Sleep with the fishes originated from the mafia, particularly in movies and television shows, to describe someone who has been murdered by being thrown into a body of water, usually with concrete tied to their feet. The idiom is now commonly used to imply someone's demise or death.


  • After testifying against the gang, Tony knew he would eventually sleep with the fishes.
  • When the drug lord found out about the betrayal, he made sure that his associate would sleep with the fishes.
  • She was warned that if she didn't keep her mouth shut, she would end up sleeping with the fishes.

More "Metaphorical" idioms