What Does It Mean to Run Roughshod?

Samantha Enslen, Writing for

ride roughshod meaning

Has someone been running roughshod over you lately? If so, you’ve actually got it good, at least compared to what the phrase used to mean.

Granted, this expression doesn’t have a positive tone. If people are running roughshod over you, they’re treating you carelessly. They’re disregarding your feelings and doing what they want instead.

Not nice. But the origin of the term is downright sinister. 

Here’s why.

You probably know that horses are shod with metal shoes. Horses that must walk on icy or rough ground sometimes get special shoes with spikes sticking out of the bottom. 

This practice is called roughing, and it dates back centuries. In fact, we think the Huns of Eastern Europe invented “sharpened winter shoeing” way back in the 5th century. They’re said to have mounted “blade-shaped calks” on their horseshoes.

In the 18th century, some warhorses were purposely roughshod. Shoes with “frost nails” helped them walk safely over snow. It also meant that the horses could be used as weapons.

Why? Because their hooves could puncture the bodies of enemy soldiers that fell below them. Imagine being trampled by a horse wearing spiked shoes. It’s not a happy thought. 

Over time, this brutal meaning of running roughshod changed. Today, it means to trample someone figuratively—not literally. 

So, the next time someone “runs roughshod over you” at work or school, console yourself with this thought: at least they’re not stepping on you with nail-studded shoes. 

That’s your tidbit for today: Running roughshod means acting like a domineering bully. 

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or @DragonflyEdit.


Ammer, Christine. Ride roughshod over. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Moorcroft, William. Cursory Account of the Various Methods of Shoeing Horses Hitherto Practised; With Incidental Observations. January 1, 1800. Dublin, D. Graisberry. http://bit.ly/1VFpFrF (accessed October 1, 2015).

Oxford English Dictionary, online edition. Oxford University Press. http://bit.ly/1VEsazK (subscription required, accessed October 1, 2015).

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

About the Author

Samantha Enslen, Writing for Grammar Girl

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.

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