beat it

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我说汉语

Member
Chinese - Mandarin
I recently notice that "beat it" have an idiomatic meaning similar to "get away".(am I right?)

I'd like to know the semantic relaltions between the verb "beat" and the verb phrase "Beat it".
How "beat it" get the meaning of "get away"?

Thank you all!
 
  • tannen2004

    Senior Member
    English/USA
    You're right, "beat it" means "go away" or scram. This website proposes that the verb "to beat" in Old English (betan) had as one of it's meaning "action of feet upon the ground" and that this might be the origin. There are other expressions in English that have this same connection of "to beat" and "to go (away)", especially "to beat a retreat".

    I'm sure there are other possible explanations as well.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I recently notice that "beat it" have an idiomatic meaning similar to "get away".(am I right?)

    I'd like to know the semantic relaltions between the verb "beat" and the verb phrase "Beat it".
    How "beat it" get the meaning of "get away"?

    Thank you all!
    You're right, "beat it" means "go away" or scram. This website proposes that the verb "to beat" in Old English (betan) had as one of it's meaning "action of feet upon the ground" and that this might be the origin. There are other expressions in English that have this same connection of "to beat" and "to go (away)", especially "to beat a retreat".

    I'm sure there are other possible explanations as well.
    Tannen2004's suggestion sounds right to me. "Beat it" means "beat the ground with your feet as you're hurrying away from here". Another slightly old-fashioned way to say "take off" or "get out of here" is "Scram!"
     

    我说汉语

    Member
    Chinese - Mandarin
    Thank you all!
    I was confused with the word meaning and phrase meaning.
    I could not find the answers from dictionaries.
    Now I'm much clear! Thank you so much!
     

    cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    You may also wish to consider the route walked by a policeman. It is called a beat.

    Random House Unabridged: 35. one's assigned or regular path or habitual round: a policeman's beat.

    Online Etymology Dictionary: "action of feet upon the ground" was a sense of O.E. betan
     

    我说汉语

    Member
    Chinese - Mandarin
    Thank you!
    Actually I didn't know that "beat" has such a meaning at all.
    I just know something like "to beat someone/something" or "the hear is beating".
    Now I think I know why you ask people to "beat it" when you want them to go away.
    :)
     

    abenr

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Thank you!
    Actually I didn't know that "beat" has such a meaning at all.
    I just know something like "to beat someone/something" or "the hear is beating".
    Now I think I know why you ask people to "beat it" when you want them to go away.
    :)
    Most people who say "beat it" have absolutely no idea of its origins. :)
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    The OED has it as follows:

    3. a. trans. Said of the action of the feet upon the ground in walking or running; hence, to beat the streets : to walk up and down. to beat a path or to beat a track : to tread it hard or bare by frequent passage; hence, to open up or prepare a way. Often fig.

    OE Beowulf 2265 Se‥mearh burhstede béateð.
    c1375 Wyclif Wks. (1880) 166 Bete stretis vp & doun & synge & pleie as mynystrelis.
    1587 G. Turberville Tragicall Tales f. 135, And as enamored wights are wont, He gan the streetes to beate.
    <snip>
    1875 C. Rossetti Goblin Market 193 This beaten way thou beatest, I fear is Hell's own track.

    b. to beat one's way : to travel, or make one's way, spec. by illicit means. U.S.
    <snip>

    c. to beat it : to go away, to ‘clear out’. orig. U.S.
     

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    It must be stressed that this is not a modern English meaning. The word 'beat' does not mean 'to run away' any more, the phrase 'beat it' is a set phrase that only makes sense when used in this exact context.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It must be stressed that this is not a modern English meaning. The word 'beat' does not mean 'to run away' any more, the phrase 'beat it' is a set phrase that only makes sense when used in this exact context.
    Really?
    "Beat it", relying on Andygc's definition from the OED, "c. to beat it : to go away, to ‘clear out’. orig. U.S.", is commonplace here.
     

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    No, I meant the word beat itself. You could not say to someone 'beat down the shops and get some milk' for example. It does not alone carry the meaning of 'run away' in modern English, it is part of the set phrase 'beat it' and does not make sense on its own.

    For example the phrase 'to beat a retreat' does not come from this, it comes from the beating of the drums which signalled the retreat.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I agree that we would not say 'beat it to the shops' instead of 'go to the shops'. But using 'beat' to mean get out of somewhere fast seems very current to me. I might say "I need to beat it out of here because I have an appointment". We used it often as kids in the North-East meaning "run away fast to avoid trouble"

    Hermione
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    But the word beat is still commonly used to mean walk, which is part of meaning 3a. I can offer you my own efforts - "They beat a path to his door". "They beat their way through the jungle". "The introduction of PCSOs allowed an over-stretched Police Service to resume beating the streets". "The ramblers followed the well-beaten path to the viewpoint".

    Beat on its own never meant to run away.

    Beat a retreat is an irrelevant distraction from the use of beat=walk/run and beat it=run away.

    PS Copperknickers, that does mean that I agree with you in part - beat it is a set phrase for running away. I disagree that beat on its own is obsolete.
     
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