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I'm actually a native English speaker that can't seem to figure this one out, nor can I find it online. Unfortunately, I can't really give context: it's in pretty convoluted academic writing in a very small field.

It seems to be something like "so it doesn't really matter" or "the outcome is the same," I just can't really come up with an explanation of why that might be. Any help would be great, either in clarifying the figurative meaning or the literal explanation behind it!

Here's the best paraphrased context I can give:

... here's a single exception to this rule, but it actually doesn't even apply here...and no money is spent by the dead.

I realize how unhelpful that must be, but as I said, the writing is too convoluted to be helpful in this case.

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    It's not a common idiom, so you really must provide some reasonable amount of context to get anything other than a wild assed guess at the meaning. – Hot Licks Mar 28 '16 at 0:57
  • Here's the best paraphrased context I can give: "here's a single exception to this rule, but it actually doesn't even apply here...and no money is spent by the dead." I realize how unhelpful that must be, but as I said, the writing is too convoluted to be helpful in this case. – Richard Mar 28 '16 at 0:58
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    I'd suggest you contact the author and ask him what it's supposed to mean. – Hot Licks Mar 28 '16 at 1:54
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    Why don’t you just add the real quote? We might get more out of it than you think. And if not it will at least prevent others from asking for it. – Jim Mar 28 '16 at 3:45
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Someone just recently made that saying up.

  1. There are no hits in Google for that phrase (other than this question).
  2. There are no book entries for any similar phrases in English, in the nGram database.

Most likely, it is meant to mean:

One should not waste time trying to appeal to the tastes of people who are not capable of buying (or influencing purchasing decisions).
You will gain nothing from it.

Similar to "Beating a dead horse".



Depending upon your beliefs (and your sense of humor), the saying may not even be accurate everywhere in the multiverse. :)
Consider:

  1. The departed may have to pay to cross into the afterlife.
  2. Some zombies, vampires, liches, etc., may choose to pay for goods or services.
  3. Social security (and other welfare) fraud is a real thing. See Dead People Collecting Millions in Social Security Benefits (or any one of hundreds of similar articles), for example. ("Dead" people collecting money, so they must spend it too.)
  4. Many societies bury money, and other treasures, alongside the dead. Usually in the belief that the dead will have use of it.
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    Or is it a recommendation to live for the moment, along the lines of "you can't take it with you" or "use it or lose it"? – Chappo Mar 28 '16 at 3:37
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    @ChrisChaplin, Absolutely not! That would be a gross violation of the "He who dies with the most toys" rule! – Brock Adams Mar 28 '16 at 3:38
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In the form,

the dead spend no gold [or money],

I find three uses. The first is in a 1977 comic book, Red Sonja, She-Devil with a Sword, Vol. 1, No. 4, by Roy Thomas, Clara Noto, and Frank Thorne (Illustrator). I do not have access to the comic book, so my attribution relies on attestation at "Gold Quotes". A 1985 movie starring Brigitte Nielsen, Arnold Schwarzenegger, et al. was made from the comic book, and the character, Red Sonja, was based on one created by Robert E. Howard in 1934. Whether the phrase in the comic book was lifted from Howard's book, or whether it recurs in the movie, I don't know.

The second and third uses are from a 2010 fantasy, Tome of the Undergates: The Aeons' Gate: Book One (Samuel Sykes, Doubleday Canada), and a 2015 historical horror novel, The Dead Spend No Gold (Duncan McGeary, Books Of The Dead).

In all three cases, the meaning of the phrase is weakly metaphorical: 'the dead spend no gold' refers to the loss of continuing value associated with killing a source of income. As such, the phrase is reminiscent of the proverbial

killing the goose that lays the golden egg,

although the eggs at issue in 'the dead spend no gold' are more of the everyday, possibly hardboiled, sort.

3

I don't know where it came from, or when its use began, but it is common where I live. Not in writing though. Been in use as long as I can remember.

It is used to mean "it is a pointless hassle, so we don't bother with it"

In your given context I'd translate it with

If the rule doesn't apply anyway, there is no point wasting time on it.

Other common-use contexts could be:

Sam and Paul making cream cheese sandwiches
Sam: How come you don't butter yours?
Paul: Butter under cream cheese? No money is spent by the dead.

Joan and Kim assembling an Ikea dresser
Joan: Why don't they paint the bottom-facing sides? Kim: Who would see it? No money is spent by the dead.

I always imagined the origin went something like this:

Caretaker and gravedigger burying someone without family
gravedigger: Why are we burying him in a boring wooden box? He ought to have a proper casket.
caretaker: That's just the way things go: No money is spent by the dead.

  • You said "...it's common where I live". Where do you live? – ab2 Mar 28 '16 at 21:32
  • Oh my, @ab2, caught in a blunder. Indeed you are right. My sincere apologies. I should have mentioned the place, instead of detailing that it was where I live. I have ruined it now :( Telling you now, would be telling you where I live, and I don't divulge such personal information on the public internet. I realise this makes my answer default to the much weaker statement "it is common somewhere, here are some common uses used in that place". I shall not make this mistake again. Also, if anyone else supplies an answer with common uses, I shall remove my post. – Born2Smile Mar 28 '16 at 21:59
  • Understandable that you don't want to say where you live on the Internet. You imply that you are a native English speaker .... "as long as I can remember." Can you add that much? +1 because you still have given useful info. Just let your answer stand, is my advice. – ab2 Mar 28 '16 at 22:21
  • @ab2 Thank you. Yes, I am a native English speaker, although I grew up in a multilingual home. That said, the expression was not particularly native to our household. It is commonly heard around town (as common as pointless hassles that no one cares to bother with are, anyhow). – Born2Smile Mar 28 '16 at 23:54

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