What Does Dull As Dishwater Mean?

Dull as Dishwater Meaning

Definition: Very boring, dull.

Origin of Dull as Dishwater

This expression originated in the 1800s and originally appeared as dull as ditchwater. Either through careless pronunciation or similar analogy, the phrase dull as dishwater seems to have overtaken the original expression in popularity.

An early example can be found in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist:

  • He’d be sharper than a serpent’s tooth, if he wasn’t as dull as ditchwater.

Both versions have similar meanings.

In the case of the newer phrase, it relates the color of dishwater, which is a dull gray, to the other meaning of dull, which means mundane.

The original phrase has the same idea. The color of water in a ditch is a murky brown or gray color.

Examples of Dull as Dishwater

as dull as sayingIn the first example, two employees are talking about the meeting they both attended during the morning.

Marcus: Were you at that huge meeting this morning?

Patsy: Yes, I was. It was so tedious.

Marcus: I agree. It was as dull as dishwater.

Patsy: You should have sat next to me! We could have passed notes during the meeting to make it more fun.

Marcus: Or we could have passed a bottle of whiskey back and forth to make it even more fun!

like dull as dishwater writing crosswordIn the second example, a husband and wife are discussing what to watch while they eat dinner.

Donny: Maybe we should watch that comedy about Silicon Valley.

Alison: Or maybe we should go have dinner at that restaurant that has medieval reenactments.

Donny: But we always watch a show while we eat. Don’t you want to do that tonight?

Alison: Not really. I’m worried that our lives are as dull as dishwater. We do the same thing over and over again and never do anything spontaneous or exciting. I want to change all that by doing something we’ve never done before!

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about tax-free income.

  • That hardly seems fair—and it feels like double taxation. But that’s how the tax system works. And this is where these dull-as-dishwater investments come in. –Forbes

This excerpt is from a review of a novel that is about an experiment in criminal rehabilitation.

  • Although free to leave, they stay because they fear that the law, or perhaps old enemies, might await them outside the fence. Life may be dull as dishwater in the Blinds, but it’s safe. –Washington Post


The idiom dull as dishwater means completely uninteresting.