To put the cart before the horse means to reverse the proper order of things, so you’re doing or thinking about something in the wrong sequence. It’s like trying to move a cart in front of the horse meant to pull it.
This expression originated from a time when life revolved around simpler but profound truths drawn from everyday observations. Idioms like this one are figurative words and phrases that help us encapsulate our ideas and emotions in more relatable ways.
Stick with me as I take a moment to explain the meaning and origin of this phrase and show you how to use it in sentence examples.
Putting the Cart Before the Horse Meaning
Putting the cart before the horse is an idiom that signifies doing things in an illogical order or sequence.
Do you have Pinterest boards dedicated to how your home décor should look like, but you haven’t even bought a house yet? (Guilty!) That’s pretty much what putting the cart before the horse looks like. The idiom underscores the importance of doing things in their logical sequence: buy a house, then plan décor.
Putting the Cart Before the Horse Idiom Origin and Etymology
The idiom putting the cart before the horse comes from a period when horses and carts were the primary transportation method. This metaphor is significant in societies that rely on horse-drawn transport. It represents the concept of doing things in the right order.
The English writer John Heywood is associated with an early use of this idiom. However, he used a slightly different phrase in his 1546 proverbs collection. He wrote, “To tourne the cat in the pan, Or set the cart before the horse.” Though it is not identical to the modern version of the idiom, the meaning of maintaining the correct order is similar.
The phrase as we know it today was first recorded in English in 1589 in George Puttenham’s “The arte of English Poesie.” He wrote, “We call it in English proverb, the cart before the horse, the Greeks call it Histeron proteron.”
In summary, the exact origin of the idiom “putting the cart before the horse” is not clear. However, it has been part of the English language for centuries, highlighting the importance of following a natural or logical order.
Putting the Cart Before the Horse Synonyms
- Back to front
- Upside down
- Tail wagging the dog
- Bass-ackward (slang)
- Jumping the gun
Examples of Putting the Cart Before the Horse in a Sentence
- Asking about promotions on your first day of work is like putting the cart before the horse.
- He booked the hotel for the honeymoon before he even proposed, truly putting the cart before the horse.
- You’re putting the cart before the horse by designing the website before defining the business goals.
- “You can’t start advertising a product that hasn’t been tested, Steve. That’s putting the cart before the horse.”
- Planning the book tour ahead of writing the book is definitely putting the cart before the horse.
- They launched the marketing campaign before product testing, a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.
- My mom said picking out college courses before getting an acceptance letter is definitely putting the cart before the horse.
Steer Your Horse (and Cart) Wisely!
Putting the cart before the horse is a timeless cautionary phrase against hasty and out-of-order decisions. It reminds us to pace ourselves and approach tasks logically. Now that you’ve got this one down pat, check out my other idiomatic guides!