In my surroundings (Southern Germany), we use „sterben an einer Bleivergiftung“ as an ironic phrase for someone getting shot and subsequently dying.

Quite a few people with whom I interact always correctly infer the meaning of the phrase - but googling it didn’t give any result. Duden doesn’t recognise this usage either. Does anyone know when/where this meaning of Bleivergiftung first came up, or even if it is „standard“ usage?

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    First of all, there has to be a differentiation between the real lead poisoning and the euphemism. After all, shooting survivors may still suffer from poisons released from bullet fragments years later. My research didn't yield any results, but I'd suspect it came from a quote in a book or movie. There's a similar phrasing "jemanden mit Blei vollpumpen as well". Nov 27, 2020 at 14:09
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    Your title and your question body ask two different questions. I suspect I could easily answer the one from the title to some extent, while I have no idea about the one (or actually two) from the body. Nov 27, 2020 at 14:16
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    Not exactly a euphemism, but "lead poisoning" is used as a way of saying "getting shot" in English too. It's the kind of thing you might hear in an old-timey gangster movie. Something like "Sorry, Frankie died suddenly last night ... of 'lead poisoning'".
    – RDBury
    Nov 27, 2020 at 17:35
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    Im Englischen sind ironische Umschreibung für kriminelle Handlungen m.W. mit Raimond Chandler populär geworden. Erst den Verfilmungen folgend begann die Unterwelt tatsächlich so zu sprechen. Ob dieser konkrete Ausdruck aber auf RC zurückgeht, kann ich nicht sagen, oder ob er in einer dt. Übersetzung vorkommt. Auch die Quelle für diese Feststellung kann ich aus dem Kopf leider nicht benennen. Nov 27, 2020 at 22:23
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    Der Band hier amazon.de/Complete-Casebook-Cardigan-1935-37-English-ebook/dp/… enthält eine Detetivgeschichte mit dem Titel "Lead Poison", die 1936 in einem Groschenheft "Dime Detective" erschienen ist. Ich will das jetzt nicht kaufen und prüfen, ob es nicht doch um eine normale Bleivergiftung geht, aber es scheint ein Hinweis zu sein, dass es den Ausdruck zumindest im Englischen schon 1936 gab. Die Ecke Raymond Chandler oder amerikanische "hardboiled"-Detective-Groschenhefte sieht auf jeden Fall vielversprechend aus. Glossar: miskatonic.org/slang.html
    – HalvarF
    Nov 29, 2020 at 10:45

1 Answer 1


"Bleivergiftung" for being shot dead is not specific to any region of Germany or German at all. There's "lead poisoning" as well in English.

That euphemism is probably as old as the use of guns. It's not really far fetched since wounds from lead bullets and their fragments can lead to true lead poisoning in survivors of the gunshot itself.

  • "as old as the use of guns" - I'm not sure at which point the ammunition changed from stone to iron and lead. Thus I'm not sure wether e.g. the chinese were first in using lead or not. Any knowledge about that to determine the earliest possible time? Dec 24, 2020 at 23:33
  • @ShegitBrahm Valid point. I was trying to refer to small arms like muskets. But even the Chinese seem to have use lead balls with their early hand cannons. Sorry for speculating, just trying to point out the euphemism is rather obvious.
    – Zac67
    Dec 25, 2020 at 9:22

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