Dead-as-a-doornail meaning

(simile) Unquestionably dead. Used for both inanimate objects and once living beings.

I picked up the phone, but the line was dead as a doornail.

We finally found John's cat run over in the next road. It was as dead as a doornail.


Origin of dead-as-a-doornail

One of the earliest usages in English is in William Langland's poem Piers Plowman A. i. 161 "Fey withouten fait is febelore þen nouȝt, And ded as a dore-nayl", though it is unlikely this is Langland's invention. It also appears in the English William of Palerne l. 628 "For but ich haue bote of mi bale‥I am ded as dore-nail" and in the alliterative debate poem Parliament of the Three Ages "Dede als a dore-nayle doune was he fallen" 65. Both of these texts are of uncertain date, and may predate Langland's usage.