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"Dead man walking" is a phrase used to convey that a person is in some sort of trouble and has no hope of escaping punishment. This phrase is an idiom, which is a word or phrase that is used expressively rather than literally. When a person uses this phrase, he does not mean the person in question is truly deceased. Instead, he typically is trying to convey that a person is going to lose his job, suffer some sort of punishment from law enforcement, have to deal with an angry spouse or parent, or is in some other dire situation.
There are many ways a person may choose to indicate that another person, or even himself, is facing some sort of serious trouble. An individual could simply choose to say that a party is in trouble, will be punished, or should expect some form of punishment. In many cases, however, people choose to use expressions that are referred to as idioms to make their points. An idiom is a commonly used but not literal expression.
It may be easiest to consider examples when trying to understand what the phrase "dead man walking" means. For example, a person might make a major mistake at work and then fail to show up the next day to perform his regular job duties. If this person's boss is very upset over this behavior or has even lost money as a result of it, his coworkers may describe him as a dead man walking. In such a case, this phrase indicates that his coworkers believe he may be fired very soon.
Another example could involve a personal relationship. For instance, if a teen has taken the car when he wasn't supposed to and received a speeding ticket, he may face punishment from his parents.
Sometimes, the phrase is used in cases involving law enforcement. For example, if an individual is in trouble with the law and is unlikely to escape without a long prison sentence, a person may describe him using the "dead man walking" idiom. Likewise, a person who faces the death penalty may be described in this way.