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Meaning of “Put The Cart Before The Horse” phrase of Idiom, definition and synonyms use in sentence.

Put The Cart Before The Horse

“The framers of the League [of Nations] Covenant put the cart before the horse by assuming the existence, and permanence, of a community-sense among peace-loving nations, and legislating upon that assumption before it had been proved valid.”

—WICKHAM STEED : The Times, 25/7/1936.

Many old proverbs naturally have their origin in pastoral and agricultural pursuits. Our present phrase is unquestionably of that order, and means to put an argument topsy-turvy in other words, to state a problem illogically.

One thing which distinguishes the man of the soil from the townsman is his plain, even blunt, speech. He may know little of formal logic, but he knows the relative positions of the cart and the horse. He knows how many beans make five; and he can tell a bee from a bull’s foot, as we say. The phrase is probably as old as a farmer’s wagon, for we read as early as 1340 : “Moche Yolk ‘of religion setteth the wagon before the oksen.”

It is often argued that it is putting the cart before the horse to say, “If any one nation will but disarm to show the will to peace, other nations will follow.” This same plea was made by the early advocates of the system called “Free Trade” between nations, Richard Cobden, its principal protagonist, arguing that other nations would eventually follow Great Britain’s example. The universally accepted maxim “Example is better than precept” may have to be recast and revised; for although every individual, as every nation, is always waiting for an example to be set by another, no one man nor nation seems willing to follow any offered example. Robert Whittington, the 10th-century Lichfield grammarian, was not exactly cynical when he wrote in his Vidgaria, “That teacher setteth the carte before the horse that preferreyth imitacyon before precept.” It is a matter of the right appreciation of moral values.

“May not an ass know when the cart draws the horse ?”

—SHAKESPEARE: King Lear, 5. iv.


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