Friday’s Phrase – Deaf as a Post

Welcome to the weekly series “Friday’s Phrase”. A whimsical and informative look at the idioms, phrases, proverbs and colloquialisms we commonly use, what they mean, and where they came from.

This week’s phrase:           Deaf as a post

This idiom requires almost no mental consideration to understand the concept it describes. ‘Posts’ (as in fence posts) have no ears and would be conceivably hard of hearing. But there are a lot of things that don’t have ears, yet this particular word has seem to stick through its lineage.

Current accepted meaning:

  1. informal : very deaf, unable to hear

My grandmother’s a sweet old lady, but she’s as deaf as a post.

Historical Recorded Use:

The first simile has its origin in John Palsgrave’s Acolastus (1540): “How deaf an ear I intended to give him … he were as good to tell his tale to a post.”

Etymology:

This one is unusual in that, unlike many whose heritage can be traced to the first written use of the idiom, the first appearance of the mother of this phrase is recorded as a true simile. It gives rise to believe that this written simile could have easily been the origins of what later became a common idiom. More often, we see common idioms already accepted and used in society, eventually being placed into print as they are now easily recognizable for their meaning. If the idiom was in common use, the author would have likely used it instead of setting the stage for a less concise simile.

Conclusion:

Although you could say “deaf as a (any inanimate object)” and still convey the same meaning, the reference to the fence post has remained. And these types of similes are rampant in our language. ‘Dumb as a rock’, ‘blind as a bat’, ‘big as a house’, ‘quiet as a mouse’, etc. Have fun thinking of all the others that have become so common.

 

Bonus Phrase: (provided at no extra charge)

John Palsgrave’s simile has been speculated to be his turn of a much older phrase readily in print at the time, ‘Deaf as an adder’, from Psalms 58:4.

Their poison is like the poison of a serpent: they are like the deaf adder that stoppeth her ear;

However, this biblical phrase as an idiom is not seen in print till circa 1605 in the comedy Eastward Hoe, written by English playwrights George Chapman, Ben Jonson, and John Marston, all born after the simile offered by Palsgrave.

Comments
2 Responses to “Friday’s Phrase – Deaf as a Post”
  1. Now we’re even…I don’t recall ever hearing this one before! Good to add to my growing list!

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