Beating a Dead Horse

Meaning:

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.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. Flogging a dead horse
2. Hammering it home

The Origin of ‘Beating a Dead Horse’:

This phrase may originate with horse racing, where horses are sometimes hit or “beaten” by their riders. For what purpose? To get them moving faster. Depending on the rules, a jockey usually has access to a riding crop. It looks sorta like a miniature whip and it’s used by them to slap the horse on the thigh. The horse responds either by running faster, or if it’s too tired, then it probably doesn’t respond at all.

While there is much controversy involved with how horses should be treated during a race, the purpose of “beating” a horse during one is to make them run faster. What, though, is the purpose of beating a dead horse? There isn’t one; it’s pointless! Thus, the origin of this expression may come from horse racing and the futility that comes from hitting a dead horse.

Anyways, this idiom goes back to at least the year 1859. A form of it makes an appearance in the Watchman And Wesleyan Advertiser newspaper from London. 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.


Example Sentences of ‘Beating a Dead Horse’

  1. Why do you insist on beating a dead horse by bringing up these old problems of ours?
  2. 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.