24+ 'Dead' Idioms: Dead Ringer, Dead in the Water, and More

The word "dead" has been in English since the time of "Beowulf," which has given it plenty of time to find a home in English idioms about death and more.

Samantha Enslen, Writing for
5-minute read
Episode #591

An Incomplete List of ‘Dead’ Idioms

  1. Dead ahead
  2. Dead broke
  3. Dead calm
  4. Dead drunk
  5. Dead heat
  6. Dead letter
  7. Dead meat
  8. Dead ringer
  9. Dead silence
  10. Dead wrong
  11. Dead as a dodo
  12. Dead as a doornail
  13. Dead as a herring
  14. Dead cat bounce
  15. Dead in the water
  16. Dead of night
  17. Dead of winter
  18. Dead on your feet
  19. Dead to rights
  20. Dead to the world
  21. Better dead than red
  22. Flog a dead horse 
  23. The quick and the dead
  24. Get the dead needle (British)
  25. Makes a dead set at (British)

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or on Twitter as @DragonflyEdit.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


Ammer, Christine. Dead as a doornail, dead in the water, dead ringer. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. 

Barrere, Albert, and Charles Leland. Dead. A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant. London, George Bell & Sons, 1897.

Dent, Susie. As (dead as a doornail), dead in the water, ringer. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 19th ed. Chambers Harrap, 2012.

Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. Dead as a doornail, dead in the water, dead ringer (subscription required, accessed October 17, 2017).


About the Author

Samantha Enslen, Writing for Grammar Girl

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.