The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue was first published at the end of the eighteenth century, and given that the current health crisis is giving too much time to read books, I thought I’d pick a daily word from it until I got bored…. Incidentally, this word is out of alphabetical order compared to the previous days as that’s where it’s located in the dictionary.
Although I’ve heard this phrase often, primarily due to the film name, I’ve never known what it really means. But, the Grose’s dictionary has the answer, it’s defined as “to show no signs of fear or contrition at the gallows; not to whiddle or squeak. This advice is frequently given to felons going to suffer the law, by their old comrades anxious for the honour of the gang”.
Over time, the word meaning has shifted away from death at the gallows, to mean instead remaining fixed on a viewpoint and not changing. Word origin for this meaning is from the mid-nineteenth century, which flows nicely from the original meaning of the phrase in the eighteenth century.
The Wikipedia article at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Die_hard_(phrase) is thus partly nonsense, they’ve got the first usage of this word as being after the publication of Grose’s dictionary.