To Beat a Retreat (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "To Beat a Retreat"?

To beat a retreat means to extract from a situation quickly — usually to avoid the consequences of remaining in situ.

The term beat the retreat is an old military term from the days when orders were passed to fighting troops on the battlefield using drums. Positioned alongside the Commanding Officer, a drummer boy would be ordered to beat the retreat if a battle was not going to plan. 

Test Your Knowledge of English Proverbs and Idioms

Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs