Most of you probably heard the phrase "gild the lily", which describes the act of trying to improve something that is already perfect.

What I'm looking for is the opposite of that, is there a phrase/idiom that describes the act of trying to repair something that is ruined beyond repair?

The phrase "beat a dead horse" comes to mind, but to me, it feels like it describes the act of carrying on trying to fix something when it's too late to do so.

  • 4
    "Rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic." Apr 16, 2021 at 12:55
  • 4
    "You can't polish a turd" is close. Apr 16, 2021 at 13:06
  • 1
    It doesn't relate to repair, but throwing good money after bad seems as if it fits the activity
    – Jim Mack
    Apr 16, 2021 at 13:06

1 Answer 1


Sisyphean is a good word for it.

Sisyphus knows just how you feel. The inevitable failure even after all the efforts that were made. Depending on your context your task of fixing the unfix-able may feel doomed from the start. In that case it may not be entirely "Sisyphean". You could still share the crush of inevitable failure. There's that.

On https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus In Greek mythology Sisyphus or Sisyphos was the king of Ephyra. He was punished for his self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action for eternity. Through the classical influence on modern culture, tasks that are both laborious and futile are therefore described as Sisyphean.

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