34

In Polish, and I believe in a number of other European languages, there is an idiomatic expression which translates to "to force a door which is already open". It is used to describe a situation when much effort is spent on solving a problem which has already been solved, or did not exist in the first place. For example, if someone was doing research to answer a question which has already been answered, one would be said to be "forcing an open door". The same would apply to a person who is arguing a point that everyone already agrees with.

As far as I am aware, this phrase does not carry similar meaning in English. (Or does it?). Hence, I would like to know if there is an idiom with similar meaning? If not, is there a succinct way to describe such situations?

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    FWIW, there is a word for the specific case of "doing research that has already been done" - it's called "verifying" (or "confirming"). Repeating research/experiments is a very important part of science and act as a safeguard against mistakes in research/experiments. In general we use schoolkids/college students to do this. But for some really important and/or difficult research, top scientists often repeat other people's research. – slebetman Sep 27 '14 at 16:13
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    "No shit, Sherlock" and "Cpt. Obvious" are informal, maybe snark, but widely used expressions to denote redundancy in America. – Crosscounter Sep 27 '14 at 23:08
  • One that's not what you're looking for, but still fits the criteria: homework – Izkata Sep 28 '14 at 6:36
  • @Izkata homework is often unoriginal but it need not be. – emory Sep 28 '14 at 21:21
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    Related: "If it ain't broke(/isn't broken)..." ("...don't fix it") – OJFord Sep 28 '14 at 23:23
111

The standard English expression for solving a problem that has already been solved is...

Reinventing the wheel
duplicate a basic method that has already previously been created or optimized by others


The idiomatic push at an open door has a completely different meaning...

to achieve what you want easily because a lot of people agree with you or help you (usually in continuous tenses)
The campaigners are pushing at an open door because most local residents support their campaign against the new road.

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    This is the answer. But when you want to indicate a poor solution to a problem than has already been solved well, you can say "reinventing the square wheel." – emory Sep 27 '14 at 19:24
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    the square wheel would be an improvement over the triangular wheel. So I suppose an absolutely horrible solution to a problem that has already been solved well would be "reinventing the triangular wheel". – emory Sep 27 '14 at 20:29
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    @FumbleFingers The Liberty Science Center in New Jersey had as an exhibit, many years ago, a "car" with square wheels, driven along a track of triangular sawteeth. Made for a very bumpy and difficult ride, but I suppose the traction was unsurpassed. – KRyan Sep 27 '14 at 20:31
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    @FumbleFingers the square wheel can in the right circumstances be practical - math.hmc.edu/funfacts/ffiles/10001.2-3-8.shtml - the square wheeled bicycle – emory Sep 27 '14 at 20:32
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    @emory: That's really useful information. So if my local council suddedly decide to resurface my road like this... /\/\/\/\/\/\/\... I'll know exactly what kind of bike wheels I need to buy! :) – FumbleFingers Sep 28 '14 at 21:11
10

A phrase that would apply to a person who is arguing a point that everyone already agrees with:

preaching to the choir:

To commend an opinion to those who already accept it.

The phrase comes from an earlier one, preaching to the converted (1867).

The idea has also been expressed in another phrase that refers to an unnecessary act, that is, kicking at an open door.

8

You can consider flogging a dead horse (and its alternative forms) also. It is used in situations where you waste effort on something that is settled, discarded or insoluble. It is mainly British.

Flogging a dead horse (alternatively beating a dead horse, or beating a dead dog in some parts of the Anglophone world) is an idiom that means a particular request or line of conversation is already foreclosed or otherwise resolved, and any attempt to continue it is futile; or that to continue in any endeavour (physical, mental, etc.) is a waste of time as the outcome is already decided.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flogging_a_dead_horse

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    -1. Flogging a dead horse does not mean solving a problem that has already been solved. The quoted definition doesn't even include that, except indirectly in the reference to futile activity. If you use "flogging a dead horse" in a context where you mean "reinventing the wheel", you will certainly get strange looks. – GreenAsJade Sep 28 '14 at 5:34
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    @GreenAsJade: -1 to you also. Question has more details in it and read the definition. Flogging a dead horse is used in various contexts and one of them is wasting effort on something that is resolved or settled. – ermanen Sep 28 '14 at 11:07
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    @GreenAsJade: The question is not asking that implicitly. It is just the title of the question to summarize it. And now you agree with me. I appreciate your comment but it is not considering all the details. The question body is mentioning various contexts and in my opinion, "reinventing the wheel" doesn't cover all. It has a more limited usage than "flogging a dead horse" – ermanen Sep 28 '14 at 13:08
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    Personally, I'd say that the most likely contexts where flogging a dead horse could be used in the context of "already solved problems" is if the original problem was which solution to adopt. Where the would-be flogger's solution wasn't the one chosen - so he's wasting effort trying to promote it, since the choice has already been made. – FumbleFingers Sep 28 '14 at 22:27
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    @FumbleFingers: Yes, but as I said "flogging a dead horse" covers more situations. OP mentioned other situations in the question where "flogging a dead horse" is more appropriate to use, in my opinion. I'm flogging a dead horse here I guess :) – ermanen Sep 29 '14 at 13:36
2

Some engineering cultures have Not Invented Here Syndrome; (NIH)

...the tendency towards reinventing the wheel (reimplementing something that is already available) based on the belief that in-house developments are inherently better suited, more secure or more controlled than existing implementations.

NIH can cause considerable delay in an engineering project; especially since the resulting system is seldom on the same level of quality as the preexisting alternatives, in my experience.

Edit: Here is an example conversation I've heard many times:

Engineer A: Why are they building System Y when System X does all that already and has a great community?

Engineer B: Because it's Not Invented Here.

  • Downvoters, care to explain how this either doesn't answer the question or is not a proper answer? We use the term "Not Invented Here" to mean "solve a problem which has already been solved;" but with the nuance toward "because I want to implement it myself." – Michael Deardeuff Sep 27 '14 at 18:51
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    -1: "Not Invented Here" does not mean solving a problem that has already been solved. The quote that you give shows that "Not invented here" leads to reinventing the wheel. – GreenAsJade Sep 28 '14 at 5:37
  • @GreenAsJade, in my experience it does. Updated with example. – Michael Deardeuff Sep 29 '14 at 17:05
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    Your example illustrates my point: "Why are you reinventing the wheel?"..."Because the old one is not invented here". IE NIH leads to reinventing the wheel. Engineer A didn't say "Why are you not invented hereing?". He said "why are you reinventing the wheel". – GreenAsJade Sep 29 '14 at 22:17
1

If you're expending effort to solve a problem which has already been solved (as commented, not to be confused with verifying test results), or did not exist in the first place, one would be said to be doing make-work. E.g., observe how I am adding and have edited my low vote post on a question that already has a highly up-voted and accepted answer. This is debatably unnecessary and likely to fall on deaf ears. Or another idiom for continuing on with an agreed argument, as mentioned, is beating a dead horse. Similar questions, An idiom for doing something in an unnecessarily complicated way and An idiom meaning someone's doing something useless and has no result at the end both have some relevant answers pertaining to this one, as each includes the horse idiom, among others.

1

How about rediscovering America?

The law has already been discovered by a man better fit to find it out. It is certainly futile to rediscover America or to reinvent the steam engine.

Precedents, Statutes, and Analysis of Legal Concepts: Interpretation

rediscover America

: to present as new what is known to everyone.

Русско-английский Фразеологический Словарь Для Переводчика

In so doing, “born again” US fundamentalists do not “rediscover America” (or “ reinvent the wheel”), but perpetuate a long-standing tradition of Calvinist-Puritan anti-liberalism, anti-pluralism, and anti- secularism, just as anti-rationalism, ...

The Destiny of Modern Societies: The Calvinist Predestination of a New Society

At the moment architectural design is the best example of what Sorokin called the New Columbus Syndrome: the tendency to rediscover America anew each time, or to reinvent the wheel.

The Architects' Journal, Volume 178

To cultural historian Peter Burke, contemporary studies of hybridity regularly rediscover America and reinvent the wheel because “scholars in one discipline have not been aware of what their neighbors were thinking” (2009, 34)

Consciousness, Theatre, Literature and the Arts 2011

... if every IEM is supposed to be Knowles by some kind of "no point in rediscovering America" attitude, ...

Final Audio Design Heaven IV - Page 4

-1

The closest phrase to describe that is a solution in search of a problem.

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    That would be slightly different. A solution in search of a problem is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. – Anderson Green Sep 27 '14 at 21:55
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    @AndersonGreen Read the question: "It is used to describe a situation when much effort is spent on solving a problem which has already been solved, or did not exist in the first place". It's a very suitable phrase. – Boann Sep 27 '14 at 22:26
  • It's suitable for when the problem has been solved (there is, then, no problem to solve) and make-work is being done to create the solution where there is no problem. It's not so much implying that there is repetition of solution, though. – SrJoven Sep 29 '14 at 5:22
  • "A solution in search of a problem" is not the same as "solving a problem that is already solved". For a start, one is a noun clause and the other is a verb clause. Suppose I said "That silly man is solving a problem that is already solved". How can I restate that using this phrase. "That silly man is a solution in search of a problem"? Doesn't work. – GreenAsJade Sep 29 '14 at 22:19

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