Dead as a Doornail

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Did you ever wonder from where certain phrases come (English in this case)?  How is a doornail dead?

There’s a reference to “dead as a doornail” in print as early as 1350 and Shakespeare used it in King Henry VI, Part 2, 1592:


Brave thee! ay, by the best blood that ever was
broached, and beard thee too. Look on me well: I
have eat no meat these five days; yet, come thou and
thy five men, and if I do not leave you all as dead
as a doornail
, I pray God I may never eat grass more.

Definition of Dead as a doornail: Unquestionably dead. Used for both inanimate objects and once living beings.

I picked up the phone, but the line was dead as a doornail.
We finally found John’s cat run over in the next road. It was as dead as a doornail.

Possible origination: Doornails are the large-headed studs that were used in earlier times for strength and more recently as decoration. The practice was to hammer the nail through and then bend over the protruding end to secure it. This process, similar to riveting, was called clenching. This may be the source of the ‘deadness’, as such a nail would be unusable afterwards.

Who knew?

Thanks Casey (my 16 year old son) for this interesting factoid! Very interesting!

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