What does “flogging a dead horse” mean?

Flogging a dead horse" is a common idiom that means to waste time and effort on a failed or irrelevant task. Learn more about its usage and synonyms.

Understanding the Idiom

Definition and Meaning

“Flogging a dead horse” is a common idiom that means to continue to waste time and effort on a task that has already failed or is no longer relevant.

The expression is often used to describe a situation where someone is trying to achieve something that is no longer possible or useful.

Another meaning of the idiom is that it refers to work for which a person has already been paid in advance, and possibly has already spent the proceeds.

This usage dates back to the 17th century and is referred to in Richard Brome’s play The Antipodes, first performed in 1638 and printed in 1640.

The idiom “flogging a dead horse” is often used interchangeably with “beating a dead horse,” which has the same meaning.

Common Usage

Here are three example sentences that use the idiom “flogging a dead horse”:

  • He keeps trying to revive his failing business, but it’s like flogging a dead horse.
  • The manager’s attempts to motivate the demoralized team were like flogging a dead horse.
  • The politician’s campaign promises were seen as flogging a dead horse, as the public had lost faith in him.

The idiom is commonly used in both formal and informal contexts, and is often employed to express frustration or resignation in the face of a futile effort.

Are “flogging a dead horse” and “never look a gift horse in the mouth” related idioms or expressions?

“Flogging a dead horse” and “never look a gift horse in the mouth” are both horse-related idioms, but they have different meanings.

While “flogging a dead horse” refers to wasting effort on a lost cause, the “meaning of never look in horse’s mouth” advises against questioning the value of a gift.

Synonyms

Here are three synonyms of the idiom “flogging a dead horse”:

  • Beating a dead horse
  • Pushing a lost cause
  • Wasting your breath

All of these expressions convey the same idea as “flogging a dead horse,” and are used to describe a situation where someone is expending effort on something that is unlikely to succeed.