I'm translating the british play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" to brazilian portuguese, my native language, and I stumbled upon this:

ROS: [...] if I asked you straight off - I'm going to stuff you in this box now, would you rather be alive or dead? Naturally, you'd prefer to be alive. Life in a box is better than no life at all. I expect. You'd have a chance at least. You could lie there thinking - well, at least I'm not dead! In a minute someone's going to bang on the lid and tell me to come out. (Banging on the floor with his fists.) "Hey you, whatsyername! Come out of there!"
GUIL (jumps up savagely): You don't have to flog it to death!

In this scene, Rosencrantz is going on and on about death, making Guildenstern uncomfortable and annoyed, up until the point where he just can't take it anymore and replies - "You don't have to flog it to death!", which also seems to be some sort of punchline. The word "flog", from what I've seen, is mostly used to mean whipping (when literally) or criticizing (when figuratively), but neither seem to apply in this context. So what is Guildenstern saying?

  • 4
    Flog sth to death is an idiom. See: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/flog-sth-to-death
    – Cardinal
    Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 20:50
  • 2
    +1 to Cardinal. Something can have a fairly literal meaning (like "beat to death") and still be used metaphorically.
    – stangdon
    Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 20:52
  • @Bruna I'm puzzled. How can you understand English as well as you evidently do and not understand this very simple figure of speech? You yourself use the word figuratively! Perhaps you don't understand that the antecedent of it is Rosencrantz's metaphor about being stuffed in a box. Guildenstern is saying: All right already! I get it! Commented Sep 3, 2016 at 22:05

2 Answers 2


I think it refers to the figurative meaning of "flog to death," that is killing a subject by speaking too much about it:

Flog something to death (British, American & Australian informal) also beat something to death (American):

  • to use a particular style or to discuss a particular subject so many times that it is not interesting any more

    • He basically takes one theme and flogs it to death for three hundred and fifty pages. No sporting event is beaten to death more than the Sugar Bowl - it is analyzed again and again by the commentators.

(Cambridge Idioms Dictionary)


Flogging is a punishment where a human is whipped with a actual whip. The whip could be a single strand or a cat-of-nine-tails. Given that the punishment was supposed to be a deterrent, if you flogged until death then the punishment was excessive, hence the phrase "flogged to death." The phrase caught on an came to mean anything done to excess.

  • "Whipped with an actual whip?" Is that as opposed to being whipped with a virtual whip? When did the phrase catch on? Why do you think so? Do you have references to document the "catching on?" If you do, they belong in your answer! Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 6:04

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