idiom: can’t … to save (one’s) life

The other day I heard someone use this idiom, and I think it’s a very interesting expression. It’s “can’t…to save (one’s) life”. It is used when we want to say that a certain person has no ability to do something; in other words they are really bad at it. For example:

A: Would you like to dance?

B: I’m sorry, but I can’t dance to save my life. I think you should ask someone else.

My brother can’t draw to save his life, but my sister is very good at it.

My aunt tried hard to prepare dinner for us, but she can’t cook to save her life. The meal was awful!

My classmates in my Spanish class can’t put a sentence together in Spanish to save their lives. I want to go into a different class.

I suppose the meaning behind this expression is that if a person had to do this thing (dance, draw, cook, speak Spanish, etc) in order to save their life, they would not be able to do it and so they would die.

Please remember that you shouldn’t say this directly to someone as in “You can’t sing to save your life!” Obviously that would be extremely rude and hurtful to the other person.

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