a bridge too far: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘a bridge too far’ mean?

"A bridge too far" means attempting something that is beyond one's capabilities or unrealistic. It originates from the unsuccessful Allied operation during World War II, where capturing a certain bridge proved to be too ambitious.

Idiom Explorer

Crossing Limits

The idiom "a bridge too far" is a commonly used expression in the English language. It originated from the famous military operation of the same name during World War II.

The phrase gained widespread use and recognition following the release of the book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan in 1974, which was later adapted into a film in 1977. The book recounts the failed Allied attempt to capture several bridges in the Netherlands as part of Operation Market Garden in 1944. Lieutenant-General Frederick Browning used the term "a bridge too far" to describe the strategic overextension of the operation.

The idiom has since evolved to be applied in various contexts beyond military operations. It is often used metaphorically to convey the notion of pursuing a goal or target that is beyond one's capabilities or resources. It serves as a cautionary reminder of the dangers of overreaching and the potential consequences of an overly ambitious endeavor.

When used in everyday conversation, the idiom can carry a sense of resignation and regret, suggesting that the person or entity involved had underestimated the challenges or obstacles they would face. It is a reflection of the human tendency to be daring and ambitious, but also a recognition of the limits of one's abilities.

Ambition overestimated logic, stretching limitations and distance overreach.

The idiom "a bridge too far" has become firmly embedded in the English language and is commonly understood by native speakers. It serves as a reminder to approach goals and plans with a realistic perspective, taking into account the potential risks and challenges that may arise.

One related idiom is "go too far". Both idioms convey the idea of exceeding limits or boundaries. While "a bridge too far" specifically refers to pursuing an unattainable goal, "go too far" can have a broader application. It can refer to any action or behavior that exceeds what is considered acceptable, appropriate, or reasonable.

Another related idiom is "out of reach". This idiom shares a common theme with "a bridge too far" in that it signifies something that is unattainable or beyond one's grasp. While "a bridge too far" often refers to a goal or target that is physically distant or unachievable, "out of reach" can also describe something that is metaphoric or symbolic in nature.

The idiom "cross the Rhine" is also related to "a bridge too far". It signifies a significant accomplishment or achievement that is considered difficult or challenging. "Crossing the Rhine" was a major strategic objective during World War II, and the successful crossing of the river was seen as a significant milestone in the Allied advance. In the context of "a bridge too far", "cross the Rhine" can be used to describe a goal or target that is within reach and attainable.

Lastly, the idiom "by a long shot" is related to "a bridge too far" in that it signifies a goal or target that is far from being accomplished or achieved. It conveys the idea of a significant distance or gap between the current situation and the desired outcome. "By a long shot" suggests that there is still a considerable amount of effort or progress required to reach the intended goal or target.

Overall, the idiom "a bridge too far" serves as a reminder to approach goals and plans with a realistic perspective, considering the potential risks and challenges that may arise. It cautions against overreaching and emphasizes the importance of balancing ambition with practicality. Additional related idioms such as "go too far", "out of reach", "cross the Rhine", and "by a long shot" further contribute to the understanding and application of this idiom in various contexts.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "a bridge too far" can be used in a sentence:

  1. Working two jobs while also pursuing a Master's degree was a bridge too far for Joe; he eventually had to drop one of the jobs.
  2. Attempting to lift a heavy boulder without any assistance proved to be a bridge too far for Sarah; she quickly realized she needed help.
  3. The company's ambitious plan to expand into three new markets simultaneously turned out to be a bridge too far; they were unable to handle the increased workload and had to scale back their efforts.

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