I'm looking for an expression which would give a meaning like this: to shave a cut head, to fight a finished war, to do something even though it has no base.

The usage would be in a sentence about anthropology, and it's relation to other knowledge.

I'm trying to say that knowing human, is a hinge around which other knowledge revolves, and scientific advancements without knowing about human, is .... (like trying to find a boot for a leg that's already cut from the body) or something like that.

  • 1
    thanks man, the putting the cart before the horse one I guess really hit the mark.
    – tommy
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 18:16
  • building castles in the air?
    – user175542
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 20:34

2 Answers 2


If you're looking for an idiomatic phrase, the most common that comes to mind is "beating a dead horse."

From Farlex:

to waste time doing something that has already been attempted

More antiquated is "flog a dead horse."

From the 1600s on the term dead horse was used figuratively to mean "something of no current value," specifically an advance in pay or other debt that had to be worked ("flogged") off. [Second half of 1800s]

As pointed out in a comment by Jim, in your particular case, it looks like a more appropriate idiom would be "putting the cart before the horse."


to do things in the wrong order

In your description, it sounds like you're saying that "trying to understand scientific advancements" before "understanding humans" is like putting the cart before the horse.

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    The origin of the idiom that you quote here doesn't sound right. Isn't the idea that no matter how much you whip a dead horse, it's not going to get up and pull your load? Wikipedia agrees. Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 17:53
  • @PeterShor I agree with you on the meaning, I just posted the origin that Farlex offered. Either way it seems to fit to me, "fighting a war which is long finished" is like "beating a dead horse." I understand it to mean, "overkill." Maybe it doesn't quite match the example about humans and knowledge perfectly. Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 18:00
  • Besides, it doesn’t fit OP’s purposes. What I get from the question is the notion of either an order problem (putting the cart before the horse) or a foundational problem (trying to paint the house before the walls are up) it’s really about trying to relate things without having the right context/framework.
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 18:04
  • @Jim I agree that "putting the cart before the horse" is better for the OP's purposes. Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 18:06
  • @Jim I hope you don't mind I edited my answer to include your suggestion. I would note that the question is a little ambiguous because "fighting a war that's long finished" or "trying to find a boot for a leg that's already cut from the body" imply redundancy (thing A has become obsolete, so attempting thing B is a waste of time), while the explanation implies the opposite, (thing A must occur first before thing B can occur). Commented Apr 29, 2017 at 18:14

Die-hard, adjective: Stubbornly resisting change or clinging to a seemingly hopeless or outdated cause. noun: One who stubbornly resists change or tenaciously adheres to a seemingly hopeless or outdated cause. example: rebel die-hards who refused to surrender.

Source: THE AMERICAN HERITAGE® DICTIONARY OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE, FIFTH EDITION by the Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries. Copyright © 2016, 2011 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company http://www.yourdictionary.com/die-hard

Persist, verb (used without object): 1. to continue steadfastly or firmly in some state, purpose, course of action, or the like, especially in spite of opposition, remonstrance, etc.: examples: to persist in working for world peace; to persist in unpopular political activities.


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