‘Bearer of Bad News’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Amy Gilmore, updated on November 3, 2022

People often use the term ‘bearer of bad news’ when delivering a difficult message. The ‘bearer of bad news’ is the person delivering the bad news.  

Read through this guide to learn more about this popular saying. It contains meanings, examples of use, the origin, and other similar figures of speech. 

What Does ‘Bearer of Bad News’ Mean?

The ‘bearer of bad news' is the person carrying or delivering the message. The term is often used when someone wants to break the ice before delivering a message that may be challenging to digest.

Where Did the Saying ‘Bearer of Bad News’ Come From?

During the 17th century, a person who carried bodies to graves was called a ‘bearer.’ So, the term ‘bearer of bad news’ often has a very dark connotation. 

The phrase is likely a modification of the saying ‘bearer of bad tidings,’ and you may hear the saying said with other synonyms, like ‘bearer of bad fortune. However, the term always usually has a negative meaning, and you will likely never hear someone say they are the ‘bearer of good news.’

Throughout history, similar sayings have also been popular, and that is likely because, in the past, a king or queen may put the messenger who delivers bad news to death. So, people will often say things like: 

  • I hate to be the ‘bearer of bad news.’

Examples of ‘Bearer of Bad News’ In Sentences

Seeing examples of popular idioms used in a sentence often helps you gain a more comprehensive understanding. So, take a look at this figure of speech used in a sentence:

  • Janice hated to be the ‘bearer of bad news,’ but she had to tell Peter what happened at the meeting yesterday. 
  • I really hate to be the ‘bearer of bad news,’ but your check didn’t clear, and we will need you to put another payment method on file as soon as possible. 
  • I am the official ‘bearer of bad news’ today. I had to terminate three employees. 
  • It is not fair to hold the ‘bearer of bad news’ personally responsible. They are just delivering the message.

Other Related Sayings

As previously mentioned, there have been similar sayings. Here are a few you may hear.

  • ‘Don’t shoot the messenger.’ - Means do not get mad at the person delivering bad news.
  • ‘Bad tidings’ - Means misfortune or a series of negative events.
  • ‘Harbinger’ - Someone who notifies someone that something or someone, typically negative, is coming. 

When Would You Use ‘Bearer of Bad News’ 

These are old-fashioned sayings, but they are still quite common today. You could use them in a professional setting or personal message. Most of the time, the user is trying to calm someone down or prepare them before telling them something bad. 

If you have ever had to give bad news, you know how difficult it can be. So, many people use a line to break the ice or make telling the person less tense. Telling someone you hate to be the ‘bearer of bad news’ can help cut the edge. 

However, if you have truly bad news to tell someone or you are delivering a message about someone’s loved one, it is better to deliver the message without using idioms. In certain situations, using a figure of speech can make it appear that you are making light of a serious situation.

Instead, you could say something like: 

  • ‘I hate to tell you this...’
  • ‘I have to tell you something that may be difficult to hear...’
  • ‘I need to prepare you; I have to give you some bad news...’ 

These are more compassionate ways of breaking the ice and preparing the recipient for your message. 

Final Advice on Using ‘Bearer of Bad News’ 

Now that you know what ‘bearer of bad news’ means, you should be better positioned to use the saying properly. Knowing how to use phrases properly makes your writing seem more authentic. Nevertheless, even experienced writers wonder about the accurate meaning of a phrase from time to time. 

Bookmarking this website can help you quickly check the meaning of similar phrases like, 'shoot your shot,' 'woot woot,' 'bane of my existence,' and 'onwards and upwards. Doing so will help you be more confident in your writing. 


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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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