burn one's bridges


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burn (one's) bridges

1. Literally, to destroy a bridge or path behind oneself, so that others cannot follow. This usage is often related to military action. When the troops retreated from the area, they were sure to burn their bridges behind them.
2. To do something that cannot be easily undone or reversed in the future (often because one has behaved offensively or unfavorably). I think you really burned your bridges when you announced you were quitting and proceeded to insult your boss in front of the whole staff. She's young, so I don't think she realizes that she'll be burning her bridges if she goes to work for their competitor.
See also: bridge, burn

burn one's bridges

Also, burn one's boats. Commit oneself to an irreversible course. For example, Denouncing one's boss in a written resignation means one has burned one's bridges, or Turning down one job before you have another amounts to burning your boats. Both versions of this idiom allude to ancient military tactics, when troops would cross a body of water and then burn the bridge or boats they had used both to prevent retreat and to foil a pursuing enemy. [Late 1800s] Also see cross the rubicon.
See also: bridge, burn