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What is a Daredevil?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A daredevil is someone who is bold to the point of being reckless. Daredevils often pursue risky endeavors or feats which require both bravery and strong self confidence for success. The term “daredevil” is used also to refer to professionals like the late Evil Knievel, who performed daring stunts for a living. Some people also refer to professional stunt performers who work in film and television as daredevils, although this usage is of debatable accuracy.

In the sense of someone who is just recklessly bold, a daredevil can be someone who routinely engages in dangerous acts, or someone who pursues dangerous hobbies or careers. Many people think of people who are interested in extreme sports are daredevils, for example, since sports such as hang gliding require a certain amount of confidence. Parents may also use the term to refer to children who do dangerous things like climbing high trees.

In the sense of a professional stunt person, a daredevil receives special training in performing dangerous tasks safety. In films, stunt people crash cars, stage fight scenes, and engage in other tasks that require training to be safe. A stunt person is chosen primarily on the basis of his or her abilities, and most films try to use stunt people with at least a superficial resemblance to the actors that they are standing in for. In some cases, a daredevil might have to suffer for the sake of the film; in the James Bond film Goldfinger, for example, stuntmen had to wear blonde wigs for a scene in which they were standing in for an all-female crew of pilots.

Although some people may refer to stunt people as daredevils, most stunt performers are far from reckless. They perform daring feats in very controlled environments, and they take a number of steps to ensure that the stunt will be safe. A stunt team on a film might rehearse a scene numerous times without volatile elements like explosives or moving vehicles until everyone is confident that the scene can be safely performed. Stunt doubles also stand in on more mundane scenes, not just for the dramatic and dangerous bits of a film or television show.

More commonly, a professional daredevil performs standalone stunts for their dramatic value. He or she usually has an organized performance in which a handful of challenging tasks are displayed for the public. Daredevils may broadcast their shows on television or sell tickets for monetary gain. Making a career as a daredevil is tough and dangerous work; it requires self promotion skills as well as stunt training.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Mykol — On May 26, 2012

I think there is a difference between those daredevils who train for their feats and those who do something randomly without much thought or training.

Either way, I see them as a risk taker, but one would certainly be more reckless than the other.

When I think of a daredevil, I think of Evel Knievel who performed all those motorcycle jumps. Most people would never dream of attempting what he did, but he also put hours and hours of training and practice in.

I remember reading somewhere that he was in the Guinness Book of World Records for the person who broke the most bones in their body.

I also find it interesting that he was never killed from attempting one of his jumps.

By SarahSon — On May 26, 2012

Last year when we went to our state fair, we watched some kids doing some extreme motor sports. I would say these were definitely daredevils.

I didn't even know who they were and I found myself getting nervous for them. I have never been much of a risk taker, especially when it comes to physical stunts like that.

I imagine there are more people who get hurt than you hear about. I have always wondered what makes some people more interested in doing these stunts than others.

At some point, they must either lose interest, get too old or get injured. There doesn't seem to be a lack of new interested young people to take their place though.

By golf07 — On May 25, 2012

My son has always been somewhat of a daredevil and it scares me to death. When he was growing up I never knew what kind of stunt he was going to try and pull.

Thankfully, he was never seriously injured. Because he never got hurt, he just kept trying more things though. It is probably a good thing I didn't know about everything he was doing or I would have really been worried.

He is an adult now, but is currently involved in car racing on the weekends. I go to the races to watch him, but I am on the edge of my seat the whole time. I always breathe a big sigh of relief when another race is over and he is OK.

By ysmina — On May 24, 2012

@simrin-- Daredevil is a pretty old word, it's been around since at least the 1800s.

I'm not sure what the original users meant but it could mean either of two things. "Devil" might actually refer to the person. You know how they call little kids who are mischievous "little devils." So the person might be called a devil who is daring. Or it could be like you said, as in someone who dares the devil.

I think both make sense in terms of meaning. Recklessness and mischievousness can go together. And daring is very straightforward.

By fify — On May 24, 2012

There was a film out named "Daredevil" several years ago. It was about a superhero who helps and saves innocents at nighttime. He also has an enemy who is trying to kill him but instead of staying away, he picks up a fight with his enemy in his domain. I guess this character fits the bill for a daredevil.

And if I remember correctly, the movie was based on a previous comic books and a novel called Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. Superheroes are definitely the ultimate daredevils. They put themselves at risk for others. But you don't have to be a superhero to be a daredevil. Firemen risk their lives to save people too for example.

By SteamLouis — On May 23, 2012

I also don't think that professional stunt people are daredevils. Just as the article described, what they do is staged, practiced and safe. It might require courage, but it also requires discipline and it's not at all reckless. Maybe in the olden days when stunt men weren't as protected in film settings, they were more of daredevils.

By the way, where does the name daredevil come from? I've always wondered this. To me it sounds like someone who dares the devil. And to do that is no small thing, it's risky and dangerous. I think that makes sense but I'm not sure that's what people meant when they first started using this word. Anyone know?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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