What is the origin of the expression "to run roughshod over someone"? I have heard it being used by Mitt Romney, but I couldn't find if it has an American origin.
The first instance I can find is in an 1833 speech by Samuel P. Carson in the U. S. House of Representatives, cited in Niles' Weekly Register. It may have been commonly used in conversation before that, but Carson seems to have been the first person to use it in an ink-worthy setting.
I've always been of two minds as to the intended meaning of "rough", which could mean either brutal or rudimentary:
I suspect it's the former, but I can see it either way.
Either way, it expresses indifference - but what kind?
The phrase is more commonly to "ride roughshod over [someone or something]" rather than to run, which shows its equine roots.
Merriam-Webster gives a first known use of the adjective as circa 1688 and define it as:
They give a first known use for the adverb as 1813 and define it:
The Word Detective says:
As an aside, roughshod horses could accidentally injure themselves by striking a hindfoot against a forefoot, and the 1726 Dictionarium Rusticum, Urbanicum & Botanicum gives an unappealing cure:
I found an earlier use of our phrase, amongst a list of "Toasts, Sentiments, Hob-nobs, &c."in a book called The Bird, published in London in 1781:
According to 1793's The Festival of Wit, this very toast was reportedly used after a dinner given by a Major Rogers at his new house at Southhampton Buildings, Holborn, London.
In fact, the earliest citation of the phrase in OED is this same sentence, attributed to Aristophanes in 1778:
This UK use is probably more literal, and a possibly more idiomatic use occurs later in the US.
It appears in the Report of the trial and acquittal of Edward Shippen, Esquire, Chief Justice and Jasper Yeates and Thomas Smith, Esquires, Assistant Justices, of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on an Impeachment, Before the Senate of the Commonwealth from 1805:
But back in the UK, Sir Walter Scott used it in a poem called Lord Ewrie (published in 1810's Ministrelsy of the Scottish Border, although first published 1802), possibly literally, but the context suggests the idiomatic use as well:
Finally, two from 1819:
A quick Google implies that it is about horses being shod with projecting nail, to prevent slippage.
Of course, riding a horse like this over ground - or a person - would result in serious damage. It suggests that a concern for the horse overrides concern for the ground or whatever is being ridden over. I would guess that it may have a reference also to riding over a battlefield, which may be slippery with blood, and riding your horse roughshod would enable it to grip and move on. And kill anyone not dead underneath you.