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'Dead as a doornail': 25 everyday English sayings that are gradually falling out of use

Jan 27, 2024

A new study identifies some of the phrases that might become extinct over time as the English language continues to change and evolve

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How many times have you used these sayings recently? 'Know your onions', 'I've dropped a clanger', 'keen as mustard', 'knickers in a twist' and 'dead as a doornail'.

Well, according to a new study, they are just some of the traditional phrases that are gradually falling out of everyday use as the English language continues to change and evolve.

On a personal note, I've been known to utter most of them at one time or another, but according to a survey by research agency Perspectus Global, over time they are vanishing and will become extinct.

READ MORE: Tyneside in 1987 - 10 photographs

The sayings mostly have their origins in the very different worlds of the 19th and 20th centuries, or even earlier, and many younger people today don't use the phrases or know what they mean.

'Pearls before swine', for example, is a biblical saying, 'chock-a-block' has nautical origins, and ' flash in the pan' has 18th century military beginnings.

The agency says: "Language changes – and some phrases are lost to history.

"When the telephone was first invented in the 1870s, Alexander Graham Bell thought that the appropriate way to answer it was not a simple 'hello' but instead the phrase 'ahoy hoy'.

"It survived for a while into the next decade – and is still used by Mr Burns on The Simpsons - but eventually faded away.

"Language is changing, especially with the rapid growth of digital comms."

Here are 25 familiar English sayings the study says will eventually become 'dead as a doornail'. How many do you still use?

1. Pearls before swine 78% (percentage of people who never use the phrase)

2. Nail your colours to the mast 71%

3. Colder than a witch's *** 71%

4. Pip pip 70%

5. Know your onions 68%

6. A nod is as good as a wink 66%

7. A stitch in time saves nine 64%

8. Ready for the knackers yard 62%

9. I've dropped a clanger 60%

10. A fly in the ointment 59%

11. Keen as mustard 58%

12. A flash in the pan 57%

13. Tickety boo 57%y

14. A load of codswallop 56%

15. A curtain twitcher 56%

16. Knickers in a twist 56%

17. Dead as a doornail 55%

18. A dog's dinner 55%

19. It's chock a block 55%

20. Storm in a teacup 55%

21. Could not organise a booze up in a brewery 54%

22. Not enough room to swing a cat 54%

23. Flogging a dead horse 54%

24. Toe the line 54%

25. He's popped his clogs 54%

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