The Russian language is rich in a variety of figurative expressions, the meaning of which may not always be clear even to a foreigner who is fluent in the language. They are usually used to convey a sufficiently voluminous thought in a few words.
A significant part of the figurative expressions that are still used in modern Russian have their roots in more ancient times and, accordingly, use words that are already rarely used in everyday speech. One example of such an expression is the phrase "dead poultice".
The literal meaning of the expression
Poultice is an outdated term that used to be used in everyday Russian speech to refer to a hot compress. One of the options for this type of treatment procedure is the imposition of a wet hot compress. As you know, this method is quite effective in cases where it is necessary to provide local warming of the affected area of the body. For example, it is often used for colds, including sore throat, bronchial inflammation and similar situations.
In addition, the term "poultice" has been used to refer to a dry warming compress. It was made, for example, using heated sand or ash. In addition to colds, this type of poultice has been used to relieve symptoms of neuralgia, sciatica, and other similar health problems.
Figurative meaning of expression
It is obvious that all of the above methods of using poultices could be effective as therapy only with a relatively low intensity of the course of the disease. In the event that the patient's condition inspired serious concern, the poultice should have been used only as part of complex therapy, or even better, abandon its use in favor of more effective medicines.
The idiomatic expression "dead poultice" is a kind of lexical device designed to show the incompatibility of the efforts being made in comparison with the scale of the problem: after all, using such a gentle method as a poultice in relation to a person who has already died is guaranteed not to have a therapeutic effect on him. Thus, the expression "dead poultice" is used in two main cases. The first of them is the need to show the futility of the actions being taken, that is, to make it clear that they will not lead to the desired result.
The second use of this expression is a demonstration of the uselessness of an action or object from the point of view of the object to which they are intended: it is obvious that a person who has died no longer needs any treatment, all the more so ineffective. In this case, another figurative expression - "like a dog's fifth leg" can serve as a synonym for the idiom under consideration.