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Dead as a Doornail (Followup)

An interesting note from Sheldon reader Doug regarding “dead as a doornail”:

Want to know what that phrase means? Ask your friendly neighborhood blacksmith.

I’ve been doing living history for years at a reconstructed 1820s military fort. The doors to my quarters are made from thick planks held together by cross and diagonal planks. These are secured by large square handmade nails. Doornails to be exact. The article is correct concerning the way the nails are bent. They are then actually driven back into the surface of the door (buried) so that nothing remains to catch clothing, fingers, etc. Thus the nail was referred to as dead.

Until the late 1800s nail were all handmade by blacksmiths, one at a time. So it wasn’t unusual for old nails to be salvaged, heated, straightened, and used again. But the technique used to set doornails rendered them both immobile and forever after unusable.

This information was all imparted to me by our blacksmith one day while I was watching him make nails. Ain’t history cool!

Thanks, Doug — that is pretty neat.

Also, thanks to the 58 people who e-mailed me to let me know that my *snif* long-cherished origin story for “saved by the bell” was *snif* incorrect. It’s NOT connected to the Black Plague.

“Learning! It’s not just for students anymore!”™