fall on deaf ears

fall on deaf ears

Meaning

  • to disregard or ignore.
  • said in regard to an assertion, claim, or argument that a person has made. 
  • This indicates that what was said was (or will be) disregarded or not taken into account
  • often takes the form of ‘words fell on deaf ears’, or ‘words would fall on deaf ears.’
  • A similar idiom, “turn a deaf ear,” is used to describe the listener’s act of disregarding or dismissing a claim. 

Example Sentences

  1. His protestations that the project would put the firm over budget fell on deaf ears.
  2. I knew that my words would fall on deaf ears since no one wanted to acknowledge the problem. 
  3. Although she gave an impassioned argument, her words fell on deaf ears.
  4. Warnings that over-speeding always causes accidents and serious injuries have largely fallen on deaf ears.

Origin

Use of the phrase has been traced back to before the 16th century. In his poem, “Dingley and Brent,” the famous Anglo-Irish satirist, Johnathan Swift (1667–1745), used the related idiom, “turn a deaf ear.” The present idiom became a well-worn cliche by at least the 19th century. It often appears in commentary concerning political and economic policies. 

As an example, in his early-19th century examination of political economy, John Rae noted that arguments against the conservative character of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations would “fall on deaf ears” (Statement of Some New Principles on the Subject of Political Economy, Hillard, Gray and Company, 1834: p. vii). Similarly, an edition of the Literary Digest from the late 1800s noted that recommendations to suspend the issuing of government demand notes, which were made by U.S. President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of the Treasury, John Carlisle, “will fall on deaf ears” (January 2, 1897: p. 260).

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