As Dead As a Doornail

Meaning of “As Dead as a Doornail”

The phrase “as dead as a doornail” means to be dead or lifeless. It means that an animate thing has no life left in it. It also means finished, useless or perished and does not exist anymore.

Origin of “As Dead as a Doornail”

The phrase “as dead as a doornail” is originated from a French poem by William Langland in 1350. The following lines are translated: “For but ich haue bote of mi bale I am ded as dorenayl.” Later Shakespeare used it in King Henry VI in its second part where Jack Cade speaks the following lines, “I do not leave you all as dead as a doornail, I pray God I may never eat grass more.” Also, Charles Dicken plays an important role in making it popular by Old Marley, a famous character of his novel, A Christmas Carol.

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Let Me Go by Jimi Hendrix

Hey, let me go
This ain’t no time to waste my breath
We’re going into sudden death
Hey, let me go
Can’t you get it through your thick head
This affair is dead as a doornail
Hey, baby won’t you let me go
The bell has rung, and I’ve called time
The chair is on the table, out the door baby
Baby won’t you let me go
Let me go…

This popular song by Jimmy Hendrix expresses the theme of broken relation where the poet is asking her beloved to let him go. The use of this phrase shows that once the relationship is broken, it cannot be repaired anymore. However, the tone of the refrain of “let me go” echoes that the poet wants his beloved to stop him yet interestingly this phrase has ended the relationship as “This affair is dead as a doornail.”

Example #2

From A Christmas Carol Part-I by Charles Dickens

“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.”

These two passages have been taken from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The narrator of the novel declares that Marley is as dead as a doornail using this phrase. He continues suggesting that it could be a coffin-nail. However, it announces the inevitable death of Marley and his burial. The repeated use of this phrase further emphasizes its meanings associated with death and foreshadows what was about to happen to Scrooge.

Example #3

Free Imitation of a Latin Ode by Walter De Mapes

I’ll in a tavern end my days
Midst boon companions merry,
Place at my lips a lusty flask
Replete with sparkling sherry,
That angels hov’ring round my cry,
When I lie dead as door-nail:
“Rise, genial Deacon, rise and drink
“Of the well of Life Eternal.”

This poem by Walter De Mapes talks about dying. Mapes describes this scene in religious zeal, saying that when the angels would be around his dead body, he would be called upon to rise and live an eternal life in heaven. However, he describes his death associated with the door-nail saying “When I die dead as door-nail”. Here there is no use of an article. The usage of articles ‘a’ and ‘an’ was not strictly followed in the seventeenth century.

Example #4

Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris

This novel by Charlaine Harris shows the life of a girl, Sookie Stackhouse, as a waitress. Knowing telepathy becomes her hubris when she wants an anonymous lifestyle in quiet surroundings. Her life faces a sea-change when she sees her brother as a likely shooter in the city. The game starts when she tries to find it out the truth. She believes that she could be the next victim. Therefore, the phrase is used as its title to create thrill and suspense.

Examples in Sentences

Example #1: “When Greyson entered the barn, he saw his horse lying as dead as a doornail.”

Example #2: “You have to get a piece of new furniture — the one you have looked as dead as a doornail.

Example #3: At first, the king thought the lion would pounce any minute, but the soldier confirmed it was as dead as a doornail.

Example #4: “Why would you leave this fish in the tank? It’s as dead as a doornail.”

Example #5: Tina was very much alive, but as soon as she heard the news of storm, she panicked and appeared as dead as a doornail.

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