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In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wrote about the questionable phrase, “dead as a doornail,” saying:

Old Marley was together dead as a door-nail.

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Mind! i don’t typical to speak that i know, that my very own knowledge, what there is an especially dead around a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, come regard a coffin-nail together the deadest item of ironmongery in the trade. However the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hand shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will thus permit me to repeat, emphatically, the Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

As through so many etymologies, we don’t know specifically why door pond were used in the expression rather than something prefer coffin nails, yet we have a reasonably an excellent educated guess. Door nails were lengthy used to combine the door. The person structure or installation the door would hammer the pond all the way through the boards. ~ above the various other side, he would certainly hammer the finish flat, bending that so that the nail would certainly be an ext secure in a process, referred to as “clenching.” In act so, the pond was rendered unusable for any kind of other purpose. It would certainly be challenging to remove and even more difficult to use again elsewhere. Thus, the bent pond was generally called “dead” (not simply to carry out with doors, yet elsewhere whereby the nail was bending over and couldn’t be offered again.)

As to why that is then a “doornail” rather of other cases where such clenching to be done, it’s assumed it was probably simply because this was frequently done v nails ~ above doors and the euphony of the phrase caused it come stick, wherein other similar expressions such as “dead as a stone” simply don’t role off the tongue as nicely.

Another much less touted beginning theory is that because of the doornail’s size, an especially the one securing the knocker, it had actually to be “hit top top the head” with a hammer fairly a few times much more than your typical nail. Because of the number of times it was hit, that would certainly be “dead” by the time the head was do the washing up to the lumber of the door—that is, if it had actually been a living thing fairly than an inanimate object.


Either way, the expression itself is an old one. The earliest document we have actually of the is from william Langland, who translated the French poem Guillaume de Palerne into English in 1350:

For but ich haue bote the mi bale ns am ded together dorenayl.

Langsland is also responsible for the next-oldest record, date in 1362. This time it originates from the city The Vision that William worrying Piers Plowman. A translation native Old English reads:

Faith without functions is feebler 보다 nothing, and dead as a doornail.

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As you deserve to see, contradictory to well-known belief, wilhelm Shakespeare did not coin the phrase. That was approximately long prior to Shakespeare was creating his plays and sonnets. The bard did, however, have actually a hand in making the expression popular. It shows up in Henry VI, part 2, talked by Jack Cade:

Look on me well: I have actually eat no meat these 5 days; yet, come thou and also thy five men, and also if I do not leaving you all as dead as a doornail, i pray God I may never eat grass more.

Like many other phrases provided by Shakespeare, after the expression was said onstage its popularity take it off. Remarkably, the still extremely popular century later, beating out other “dead as” phrases favor “dead together a dodo” and also “dead as mutton.”

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Bonus Facts:

The expression “like the Dickens,” as in, “hurts prefer the Dickens,” has nothing to execute with Charles Dickens as you can assume. Rather, this was a Shakespearean innovation which came around in The merry Wives that Windsor around 1600—centuries prior to Charles Dickens’ time. Dickens was initially an oath definition “devil,” perhaps a shortened variation of “devilkins.” In the play, it says: “I can not tell what the dickens his surname is mine husband had him of.”Doornails became used less and less as screws came to be popular. Rudimentary screws have actually been approximately since the first century, but they didn’t start being mass developed until the 1770s. The screw had the ability to strengthen a door there is no the end sticking out the other side and also having to it is in hammered down. The said, doornails space still sometimes used together decoration on doors.Shakespeare is thought to have come up through up to 1900 new words, do him among the many prolific creators of indigenous in the English language and no doubt the scourge of Grammar Nazis that his age. However, this calculation is most likely on the high side. Civilization working top top the Oxford English thesaurus in the early days are well-known for having a choice for Shakespearean estimates when citing the beginnings of words. In some cases, new, earlier entries for words have actually been added relatively recently. For instance, the word puke was when attributed to Shakespeare yet is now known to have actually been roughly before his time.Shakespeare is, in fact, the very first known user of countless words that start with un-. He to be a fan of the prefix and also attached it come words that previously hadn’t provided un-. Examples encompass unhelpful, uneducated, undress, and also unreal, plus part 300 various other un-words. He likewise gave new meaning to the indigenous uncomfortable and unlock; the very first had once meant “inconsolable” fairly than “discomfort.” The 2nd had only been provided in the literal sense—that is, physically turning a key—while Shakespeare supplied it to mean “display.” Shakespeare was also a pan of the suffix –er and –less, offering us words favor swagger and dauntless, among others.Expand for References