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Dead Ringer

Posted by Alf on November 20, 2002

In Reply to: Dead Ringer in the archives posted by Word Camel on November 19, 2002

About dead ringers:
I came across these explanations about the origin of dead ringers at

Origin : The definition of ringer, from which this phrase comes, is "substituted racehorse."
Unscrupulous racehorse owners have a fast horse and a slow horse that are nearly identical in appearance. They run the slow horse until the betting odds reached the desired level, then they substitute the ringer, who can run much faster. Dead in this case means abrupt or exact, like in dead stop, or dead shot.


Gangsters with contracts on their lives might hire a person who looked similar to them, a ringer, to appear in a public places. The lookalike would often be convincing enough to fool the contracted killers, you can guess the part about dead.


Refers to a ringer in the game of horse shoes. A perfect toss, with the horse shoe landing perfectly around the pin, is called a ringer. A ringer usually makes a ringing sound when the shoe hits the post.

You can get a ringer if the shoe encompasses the post, but doesn't hit the post and doesn't make a ringing sound, hence a "dead ringer."

A throw that results in a dead ringer is a perfect and precise throw exactly on the post, analogous to a perfect lookalike match.