verb (used without object)


    beat a retreat, to withdraw or retreat, especially hurriedly or in disgrace.

Origin of retreat

1300–50; (noun) Middle English retret < Old French, variant of retrait, noun use of past participle of retraire to draw back < Latin retrahere (re- re- + trahere to draw; see retract1); (v.) late Middle English retreten < Middle French retraitier < Latin retractāre to retract2
Related formsre·treat·al, adjectivere·treat·er, nounre·treat·ive, adjective
Can be confusedre-treat retreat

Synonyms for retreat

2. departure, withdrawal. 3. shelter. 8. leave, pull back.

Synonym study

8. See depart.

Antonyms for retreat

1, 8, 9. advance. Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

British Dictionary definitions for beat a retreat


verb (mainly intr)

military to withdraw or retire in the face of or from action with an enemy, either due to defeat or in order to adopt a more favourable position
to retire or withdraw, as to seclusion or shelter
(of a person's features) to slope back; recede
(tr) chess to move (a piece) back


the act of retreating or withdrawing
  1. a withdrawal or retirement in the face of the enemy
  2. a bugle call signifying withdrawal or retirement, esp (formerly) to within a defended fortification
retirement or seclusion
a place, such as a sanatorium or monastery, to which one may retire for refuge, quiet, etc
a period of seclusion, esp for religious contemplation
an institution, esp a private one, for the care and treatment of people who are mentally ill, infirm, elderly, etc

Word Origin for retreat

C14: from Old French retret, from retraire to withdraw, from Latin retrahere to pull back; see retract
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for beat a retreat



c.1300, "a step backward;" late 14c., "act of retiring or withdrawing; military signal for retiring from action or exercise," from Old French retret, noun use of past participle of retrere "draw back," from Latin retrahere "draw back, withdraw, call back," from re- "back" (see re-) + trahere "to draw" (see tract (n.1)). Meaning "place of seclusion" is from early 15c.; sense of "establishment for mentally ill persons" is from 1797. Meaning "period of retirement for religious self-examination" is from 1756.



early 15c., "to draw in, draw back, leave the extremities," from retreat (n.) and in part from Old French retret, past participle of retrere. Meaning "to fall back from battle" is mid-15c. Related: Retreated; retreating.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Idioms and Phrases with beat a retreat

beat a retreat

Also, beat a hasty retreat. Reverse course or withdraw, usually quickly. For example, I really don't want to run into Jeff—let's beat a retreat. This term originally (1300s) referred to the military practice of sounding drums to call back troops. Today it is used only figuratively, as in the example above.


see beat a retreat.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.