What Does Beating a Dead Horse Mean?

Beating a Dead Horse Meaning

Definition: Wasting time by trying to accomplish something that is already finished.

This expression is typically used when people keep trying to solve a problem, usually through a discussion or an argument, that has already been solved. A variation of this expression is flogging a dead horse. Flogging is a synonym for beating.

Origin of Beating a Dead Horse

This idiom originates from a literal meaning in which a horse owner or rider would hit a horse to make it go faster. However, if the horse were already dead, no amount of beating would make it move. Likewise, if a decision has already been made, no amount of discussing it will change it.

This expression and its variation first started appearing in writing in the latter half of the 1800s.

Examples of Beating a Dead Horse

kick a dead horseThis idiom is used to try to stop an argument in the dialogue below.

Rodrigo: It’s much better to just admit your crime.

Alisha: I can’t admit the crime. If I do, I could be expelled!

Rodrigo: But if you don’t confess, it will just keep eating away at you. You’ll always wonder when someone will find out!

Alisha: I’m sorry, but it’s my decision, not yours. And I’ve decided not to confess, so stop beating a dead horse. This conversation is over.

how to beat a dead horseIn the example below, two friends are discussing a story that they heard on the news.

Luis: I can’t believe that they are going to tear down our old school!

Stephanie: I know, but the school was old even when we went there.

Luis: I know. But think of all the good memories we have from it. They could make it into a mall! Or a retirement home!

Stephanie: They already decided. It’s being torn down tomorrow.

Luis: They could even use it as a community center.

Stephanie: I’m sorry, Luis, but you’re beating a dead horse. There’s nothing we can do about it, and talking about it won’t change anything.

More Examples

This quote uses the idiom to say that movie sequels are just recycling the same ideas from the first movie, and not accomplishing anything new.

  • “Sequels are basically about slowly beating a dead horse,” said Jeff Bock, a box-office analyst with Exhibitor Relations. –LA Times

The athlete quoted in the article excerpt below uses the quote to emphasize that he wants the media to stop talking about how they think he did a bad job during a football game.

  • “Obviously you guys (media) are beating a dead horse talking about throwing the ball underneath,” Weeden said Wednesday. “That was our plan all along. You look back, were there a couple times maybe I could have thrown the ball to outside receivers given the plays that were called? There were maybe one or two that I could have thrown out there.”  –USA Today

Summary

The English idiom beating a dead horse is an expression that means continuing to try to do something that is impossible or that has already been decided or completed.

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