my question is about this funny idiom that i don't properly understand.

For example:

The fox in the road was as dead as a door nail.

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    This question can be answered with the most simple web search. If you have tried to search for the phrase online and cannot find an answer, or do not understand the results that you can see, please let us know what you searched for and what questions you still have. Voting to close as basic research. – Jim Reynolds Apr 28 '18 at 10:42
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    Note also: This phrase is not an idiom. – Jim Reynolds Apr 28 '18 at 10:46

To say that a person or creature is as dead as a doornail, door nail or door-nail is to say, with emphasis, that the person or creature is dead. Doornails are not alive. Compare with 'deaf as a post' (wooden posts cannot hear).

The expression is a simile of the form "as adjective as noun", where the noun denotes something which is well known to possess the quality named by the adjective. Others include as blind as a bat, as black as coal, as brave as a lion (there are many).


Charles Dickens comments upon the phrase in A Christmas Carol:

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.

Some have suggested that use of doornail as the obviously dead thing in the phrase originated because doornails were large nails used to strengthen wooden doors. They were hammered through the door so as to protrude from the other side. This protruding part was then bent flat against the door by hammering. The nail was not easily removed and was called "dead" by carpenters.

  • The site you took this from says this: "...but why doornails are cited as a particular example of deadness isn't so obvious", which is what I believe you misparaphrased. – userr2684291 Apr 28 '18 at 13:11
  • I do not believe I "misparaphrased" anything. – Michael Harvey Apr 28 '18 at 13:23
  • @userr2684291: Perhaps "obviously" dead was an odd choice of words, but what else would you use for something so emphatic and evocative that it makes it into common similes? The source clearly meant "obvious to modern folks who don't actually have doornails". – Nathan Tuggy Apr 28 '18 at 15:29
  • I work in central Bristol, England. Opposite my office is a 17th century church whose main door is studded with doornails. – Michael Harvey Apr 28 '18 at 15:31
  • @NathanTuggy Oh, no, I think that description was spot-on, especially to a native speaker of English. I simply thought, because they took the Dickens's paragraph and paraphrased the explanation from the linked site, maybe they wanted to paraphrase that part as well to be true to the original given that it uses the words obvious and deadness in pretty much the same spot this answer uses obviously dead. – userr2684291 Apr 28 '18 at 16:06

It means "completely dead" or "not working at all", depending on the context.

You could also say "as dead as a doornail", "deader than a doornail" or "dead as a dodo".

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