Turn To Ashes: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
September 2, 2023

"Turn to ashes" refers to something being destroyed, consumed, or reduced to a state where it no longer has its original form or value. The phrase typically describes something that was once solid, substantial, or valuable but has been ruined or devastated, often by fire. When something "turns to ashes," it's as if all its worth or substance has been burned away, leaving only residue behind.

In short:

  • "Turn to ashes" describes something completely destroyed or losing value.
  • The phrase paints a picture of something being reduced to a mere residue.

What Does "Turn to Ashes" Mean?

The phrase “turn to ashes” paints a vivid image of something being consumed by flames and reduced to ashes. When used metaphorically, it conveys the idea of loss, ruin, or devastation. It can refer to tangible things like possessions or intangible things like hopes, dreams, and relationships.

Let's explore its core meanings and usage:

  • "Turn to ashes" means that something has been destroyed, often beyond repair.
  • It suggests a total loss, where something valuable or substantial is no longer what it used to be.
  • The phrase often hints at the unpredictability of life and how quickly things can change. Something might be standing tall one moment, and the next, it might "turn to ashes."
  • An example sentence could be, "Life threw a curveball, and all my plans seemed to turn to ashes." This indicates a complete end to someone's aspirations.
  • Some related expressions are "crumble to dust," "go up in smoke," and "burn to the ground."

Where Does "Turn to Ashes" Come From?

The phrase likely has ancient roots, given the universal understanding of ashes as a symbol of destruction, loss, and the ephemeral nature of things. However, pinpointing a single origin is challenging due to its widespread use across cultures and time periods.

Historical Example

"Thy crown of bays, oh let it crack a while, And spit disdain, till the devouring flashes Suck all the moisture up, then turn to ashes."

- The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper: Including ..., Volume 5, 1810

10 Examples of "Turn to Ashes" in Sentences

To help you understand how to use this phrase, here are some examples from different situations:

  • Just when I needed support, my hopes turned to ashes despite everyone being there for me.
  • After the unexpected injury, his dreams of becoming a professional athlete turned to ashes.
  • With the sudden stock market downturn, many people saw their investments turn to ashes.
  • When they called him on the carpet, his confidence started to turn to ashes.
  • He led me to believe in the project, but it turned to ashes due to unforeseen challenges.
  • After a day when everything seemed to turn to ashes, I only wanted a stiff drink.
  • Many historical buildings turned to ashes during the war, erasing centuries of history.
  • His hope of reconciliation turned to ashes when she decided to move on.
  • I love bird-watching in the woods, but the beautiful forest turned to ashes after the massive wildfire.
  • Even though you keep me company, sometimes my optimism still turns to ashes.

Examples of "Turn to Ashes" in Pop Culture

The phrase has also been referenced in pop culture, often symbolizing loss or destruction.

Let's dive into some of these references:

  • The Independent published an article with the title "Watch BBC weather presenter Wendy Hurrell's joy turn to ashes in her mouth on live TV."
  • In the series "Stranger Things 5," there's a scene where the main characters witness vegetation turning to ashes, as mentioned on Sportskeeda.
  • Iron Maiden's song "Flight of Icarus" contains the lyrics, "... Now he knows his father betrayed Now his wings turn to ashes to ashes his grave." 
  • Prospect Magazine features a narrative titled "The Street of Baths," where the phrase is used in the context of people's possessions turning to ashes after they die.
  • Pitchfork discusses the pop culture of 9/11 and mentions a song with the lyrics, "Let's fly, let's fly/ Into buildings/ Let's turn to ashes."
  • One of the most iconic lines from "Game of Thrones" includes the idiom: "A day will come when you think you're safe and happy, and your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth."

Other/Different Ways to Say "Turn to Ashes"

There are different expressions that carry a similar meaning to "turn to ashes."

Check out some of these alternatives:

  • Go up in flames
  • Crumble to dust
  • Fall apart
  • Go down the drain
  • Evaporate into thin air
  • Go to waste
  • Be ruined
  • Disappear like smoke
  • Fade away
  • Lose everything

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Turn to Ashes":

  • What does "turn to ashes" mean?

"Turn to ashes" is an expression that symbolizes the destruction or complete loss of something, whether tangible like objects or intangible like dreams or hopes.

  • Can you give an example sentence using "turn to ashes"?

For instance: "The manuscript she spent years writing might as well turn to ashes after the scathing reviews.."

  • Where did the expression "turn to ashes" originate from?

The phrase likely comes from the observation of things burning. When items, especially organic ones, burn, they often leave behind ashes as a residue, representing the idea of something being reduced to nothing or losing its original value or form.

  • Is "turn to ashes" a metaphor?

Yes, "turn to ashes" is a metaphorical expression used to describe a situation where something deteriorates, fails, or loses its value or significance.

  • Can we use it in a positive context?

Typically, "turn to ashes" has a negative connotation, but like many idioms, it can be used creatively in different contexts. However, its primary use denotes loss or destruction.

  • How popular is this expression in modern speech?

While "turn to ashes" is understood and sometimes used in modern speech, there are many other expressions and idioms that might be chosen over it. Its use might also vary regionally.

  • Does "turn to ashes" have any cultural significance?

In many cultures, ashes symbolize mourning, loss, or the transient nature of life. The phrase taps into this universal symbolism, making it relatable in various cultural contexts.

  • Can we use it in reference to feelings or emotions?

Yes, you can use "turn to ashes" to describe feelings or emotions. For example: "Her hope turned to ashes when she heard the tragic news."

  • Is the phrase commonly used in literature or music?

The concept of things turning to ashes is often used in literature, poetry, and music, as it effectively conveys a sense of loss, despair, or devastation.

  • Are there other idioms similar to "turn to ashes"?

Yes, other similar idioms include "go up in smoke," "fall apart," and "go down the drain," all denoting loss or failure in some form.

Final Thoughts About "Turn to Ashes"

The expression "turn to ashes" paints a vivid picture of loss and devastation, whether it's referring to dreams, relationships, or tangible things. It taps into the universal feeling of witnessing something valuable getting destroyed.

Here's a quick summary:

  • "Turn to ashes" is about metaphorically representing loss or deterioration.
  • You can apply it in various situations, from personal failures to wide-scale devastations.
  • Understanding and using this idiom adds depth to language, allowing for a richer expression of emotions and situations.

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