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Burn your bridges

Posted by Smokey Stover on April 11, 2007

In Reply to: Burn your bridges posted by Pat Bateman on April 11, 2007

: Does anyone know the origin of the phrase "don't burn your bridges" or is it too general a term to know?

It's the negative of the well-worn expression, "burn one's bridges." That expression, in turn, is a somewhat more modern version of what ancient armies, those of the Roman Empire in particular, were said to do when invading hostile territory. If you got there by crossing a river, a commander would sometimes order the burning of the boats by which the troops got there, so that there would be no turning back, no possible retreat. This ensured that the soldiers would fight their damndest so as to stay alive.

Obviously bridges are used the same way boats are sometimes used, that is, to cross to the other side of the water.

"Don't burn your bridges" means, then, "don't cut off all means of escape or retreat," probably most often used in a non-military context, such as personal advice. Lately, when wars have come, there has often been talk of "an exit strategy" or a way out. Any commander who burns his boats is likely to find himself in hot water. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?)

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