To bring up an issue that has already been concluded; something that’s considered to be pointless.
If an argument erupts and it’s one that has been settled previously, then the idiom ‘beating a dead horse’ might be used by someone who sees any further discussion on the topic to be meaningless.
The Origin of ‘Beating a Dead Horse’:
There are several phrases and sayings in use today that originated from horse racing, and this looks like it could be another one. How so? Well, in horse racing, horses are sometimes hit or “beaten” by their riders for the purpose of getting them to run faster. Depending on the rules, a jockey usually has access to a riding crop, which looks like a miniature-sized whip. During the race, they use it to slap the horse on the thigh. The horse usually responds by running faster.
While there is much controversy involved with how horses are treated during a race, the purpose of “beating” a horse is to make them run faster. However, what would be the point of beating a dead horse? There wouldn’t be one; it’d be pointless! Thus, while “beating” a living horse serves a purpose, “beating” a dead one would be futile.
Anyways, this saying dates back to at least the year 1859. A form of it makes an appearance in the London newspaper Watchman And Wesleyan Advertiser. There’s an article from the newspaper that reads:
“It was notorious that Mr.Bright was dissatisfied with his winter reform campaign and rumor said that he had given up his effort with the exclamation that it was like flogging a dead horse.”
The word ‘flogging’ is just another word for beating.
Tip: If you liked reading about this expression, we actually have a list of phrases starting with “B” that you may want to consider checking out. You’ll find more popular sayings like this one!
Example Sentences of ‘Beating a Dead Horse’
- Why do you insist on beating a dead horse by bringing up these old problems of ours?
- Blake wanted to debate with his friends about which of the two cars had better gas mileage, but they said the argument would be like beating a dead horse.
Note: While this is not the case for all phrases and sayings, sometimes their origin is unknown. When that happens, if there are explanations floating around that talk about how it may have originated, then I’ll mention those on the page.
If no explanation is listed, then there will probably at least be an old quote of the idiom being used. These are typically the oldest known citations of it being used in writing, or at least, the oldest that I could find. These quotes can give you an idea on how old an idiom is.