Talk to a Brick Wall: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
May 22, 2023

The idiom "talk to a brick wall" suggests communicating with someone who is not listening or does not understand. People commonly associate it with frustrating situations where they feel unheard or ignored.

In short:

"Talk to a brick wall" means trying to get a point across to someone who doesn't pay attention or understand. It's like trying to converse with a literal brick wall, which, of course, can't respond.

What Does "Talk to a Brick Wall" Mean?

If you feel like you're talking to a brick wall, it means you're trying to communicate, but the other person isn't receptive. The idiom communicates the speaker's feeling of addressing someone who either ignores them or fails to comprehend their words.

Key aspects of the idiom's meaning include:

  • Indicates frustration with ineffective communication
  • Refers to feelings of being ignored or misunderstood
  • Commonly used in conflicts or disputes where dialogue seems pointless

Where Does "Talk to a Brick Wall" Come From?

The imagery of trying to converse with a brick wall—a non-responsive and inanimate object—perfectly encapsulates the feeling of speaking without being heard or understood. The exact origin of the phrase is unknown, but it is believed to have been in use since the 1900s. One of the earliest examples in print comes from the 1906 play Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde.

Historical Example

"It's no use talking to Tuppy. You might just as well talk to a brick wall."

- Lady Windermere's Fan, Oscar Wilde, 1906

10 Examples of "Talk to a Brick Wall" in Sentences

Here are some examples of using the idiom in sentences:

  • I feel like I'm talking to a brick wall. He's so gooned out, he can't even understand what I'm saying.
  • I tried explaining the issue to her, but it felt like I was talking to a brick wall.
  • We are stuck in traffic, and Lara is ignoring me; I might as well talk to a brick wall.
  • Trying to convince my boss about the new strategy was like talking to a brick wall.
  • She was so engrossed in her book I felt like I was talking to a brick wall.
  • Despite attempts to bring the unproductive meeting back on track, it seemed we were just talking to a brick wall.
  • I'm sorry to hear that reasoning with my father was like talking to a brick wall.
  • Whenever I try to discuss our relationship problems, it's like I'm talking to a brick wall.
  • My suggestions were completely ignored out of spite—it was like talking to a brick wall.
  • Communicating with the management about the issue was frustrating. I felt like I was talking to a brick wall.

Examples of "Talk to a Brick Wall" in Pop Culture

The phrase "talk to a brick wall" appears in various forms of media, often in scenarios showcasing interpersonal conflicts or communication breakdowns.

Some examples include:

  • "How is it that we can do all this advocacy and still continue to talk to a brick wall" is a quote from the 2013 book "Jobs with Justice: 25 Years, 25 Voices" by Eric Larson
  • "But she might as well talk to a brick wall. At least the wall would stay quiet while she talked and still, until she had finished" is a quote from the 2016 book Lady With a Black Umbrella by Mary Balogh.
  • In the adventure movie "Lawrence of Arabia," Colonel Brighton tells Auda Abu Tayi, "It's like talking to a brick wall."

Other/Different Ways to Say "Talk to a Brick Wall"

There are several alternative expressions that convey a similar meaning to "talk to a brick wall."

Some of these include:

  • Speaking to deaf ears
  • Waste my breath
  • Getting nowhere
  • Speaking to a wall

You can use these alternatives interchangeably depending on the context and the level of frustration involved.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Talk to a Brick Wall":

  • What does "talk to a brick wall" mean?

"Talk to a brick wall" is a phrase used to express the frustration of trying to communicate with someone who is not listening or understanding.

  • How can I use "talk to a brick wall" in a sentence?

You can use it when you feel like your words are not being heard or understood by the person you're talking to. For example, "Trying to convince her to change her mind is like talking to a brick wall."

  • Where does the idiom "talk to a brick wall" come from?

While the exact origin is unknown, the phrase is based on the metaphorical image of trying to converse with a non-responsive brick wall, symbolizing the frustration of not being heard or understood.

  • Can people use the phrase in written communication?

Yes, the phrase can be used in both informal and formal written communication, including emails, letters, and text messages.

  • Would "talk to a brick wall" work in translations of the phrase to other languages?

The metaphor may not directly translate in all languages and cultures. While the image of an unresponsive brick wall is fairly universal, the style and usage of idioms can differ between languages. 

  • Can strangers use the phrase "talk to a brick wall"?

Yes, the phrase is not context-specific and can be used by anyone in any situation that involves a frustration in communication.

  • Is it rude or insulting to say that talking to someone is like "talking to a brick wall"?

The phrase can be perceived as rather rude or insulting, as it implies that the person is dense, stubborn or unable to comprehend what is being said to them. So, it may be best avoided, especially if said to the person directly.

  • Is it okay to use the phrase to express frustration?

Yes, it is typically used to express frustration, specifically when communication is ineffective or when the listener is unresponsive or dismissive.

  • What's the difference between "talk to a brick wall" and "fall on deaf ears"?

While both phrases express a lack of communication, "talk to a brick wall" implies that the listener is unresponsive, whereas "fall on deaf ears" suggests that the listener is ignoring or choosing not to respond to the message.

  • Can one use the phrase in a professional context?

Yes, the phrase can be used in professional settings to express frustration when communication is ineffective, although it is typically used in a more informal or casual tone.

Final Thoughts About "Talk to a Brick Wall"

To conclude, the idiom "talk to a brick wall" describes the frustration of trying to communicate with someone who is unresponsive or not understanding. It is a versatile phrase, applicable in various settings and situations, from personal relationships to professional discussions.

Key aspects of the phrase:

  • Expresses frustration with ineffective communication
  • Indicates a lack of response or understanding from the listener
  • More appropriate in informal or casual contexts

Remember that the phrase implies a level of frustration. Therefore, it's most appropriate in contexts where the speaker feels unheard or misunderstood.

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