The idiom “dead as a doornail” dates back to the 1300s, and was used by William Shakespeare in the 1500s and by Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol in 1843. In use, the phrase means that something is, “not alive, truly unequivocally deceased.” But where does the phrase come from? To answer that question, the video below takes a look at the history of carpentry. When nails had to be made by hand, they were a valued commodity, and often had a lifespan much longer than the thing they were used to build. The video notes stories of houses being burned down, just to recover the nails that were used in their construction. In building doors, however, nails were used in a way that ensured that this would be the last project in which they would ever be used, hence the phrase.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


3 Thoughts on "Dead as a Doornail"

Thanks Dave. I love your Friday posts – especially when I learn something new and interesting.

Well I’ll be a monkey’s uncle. As a carpenter myself, I think this is the best post since sliced bread—it really hits the nail on the head (well, actually, it gets bent out of shape). Sorry—this comment is getting out of hand.

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