BEAT A DEAD HORSE, BEAT A HASTY RETREAT, BEAT ABOUT/AROUND THE BUSH: American English Idioms #10

Welcome to American English Idioms: Lesson 10. In this lesson you have 3 American English idioms to read, listen to, translate, and pronounce in English. Please focus and do your best so that you can learn and improve your knowledge of American English idioms. Don’t forget to use the comments section below to share your thoughts and what you’ve learned today.

Directions 1: Watch the video 2 or more times, and pay close attention to the audio and text.

Directions 2: Read the following text in English, then translate it using the translator on this page into your language if needed. When you finish, feel free to write a comment in the comments section below and let us know how you feel about what you’ve learned, as well as what you’ve learned.

BEAT A DEAD HORSE — to argue or pursue a point or topic without the possibility of success

1. They should give up trying to argue with the boss on that subject. They’re beating a dead horse.

2. The boy kept asking for a motorcycle, but his mother told him he could not have one and she would not change her mind. She told him he was beating a dead horse.

Synonyms: run (something) into the ground

The expression is usually used to describe verbal communication.

Indeed, many people use the expression “to beat a dead horse” to describe someone who continues to argue for something they already know will be refused.

The expression comes from the days when horses were driven to the marketplace by men who beat them with a stick before selling them. As time passed, the horse became beaten, exhausted and in a weakened state.

Another common usage of the phrase “beat a dead horse” is to describe an action that has been done a great deal, to no effect. For example, you can beat a dead horse to get it moving, but it will not start.

BEAT A HASTY RETREAT — to run very fast in the opposite direction

1. The old man came out on the porch to chase away the small boys who were throwing rocks at his windows. When they saw him, they beat a hasty retreat.

2. The cat wandered into the neighbor’s yard, but it beat a hasty retreat when it saw the dog.

Synonym: make tracks

Examples:

— I’m afraid that my job won’t be safe until I retire. But I don’t know how I can do that, because I can’t beat a hasty retreat.

— The kids chased the dog. But he beat a hasty retreat and didn’t get hurt.

— She beat a hasty retreat from the party because she was afraid of her husband.

— The police arrived in time to beat a hasty retreat before the thief left with the loot.

— The boy came in late for school, and the teacher gave him a very short beating.

— He ran to the door, but he beat a hasty retreat when he realized that there were other people around.

— It was too dangerous to stay any longer, so he beat a hasty retreat from the house.

BEAT ABOUT/AROUND THE BUSH — to speak or write evasively; to talk around an issue

1. Judy couldn’t come right out and tell her fiancé that she no longer wanted to marry him. She had to beat around the bush until he understood.

2. If you disagree with my opinion, just tell me. Don’t beat around the bush.

Antonym: get to the point Synonyms: stonewall; hem and haw

The phrase originates from a hunting practice dating to the 15th century, in which hunters hired ‘beaters’ to drive small animals out of bushes where the hunters could more easily get to them. The beaters would lightly beat around the edges of the bushes to lure the animals out without completely frightening them away.

This term is now used in a much broader sense, as it has evolved into a way of evading responsibility. We beat around the bush because we don’t want to come right out and say what we are thinking or doing. If we disagree with your opinion, we try to explain why we think differently. This is a common tactic in diplomacy, but we also use it when we are not being diplomatic. We beat around the bush in order to avoid taking a strong stand on an issue or saying something that may cause trouble for us.

Obviously, this is not exactly the same as “talking around an issue”, but the term was used by British writer P.G. Wodehouse as early as 1926. Wodehouse used it in a sentence: “He would never ‘beat about the bush’”. (In the same book he also used the American spelling of “bush”, “bushy”.) The phrase spread to the United States after Wodehouse. The expression came to be widely used in the 1940s and 1950s, and began to appear frequently in American literature.

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