You Can Lead a Horse to Water but You Can’t Make It Drink
Origin: This saying is so old it’s considered a proverb. It might be one of the oldest proverbs still in use. It first appeared in print in the 12th century. Dorothy Parker, an American humorist, wrote a modification of the expression. She said, “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.”
Usage: Formal and informal, spoken and written general British and American English
Idiomatic Meaning: You can’t force someone to do what they really don’t want to do.
Literal Meaning: This means exactly what it says. The definition implies that the hose will be led by a human. However there is nothing in the saying that indicates this. One horse could well lead another horse to water or anywhere else.
Why is this funny? In the cartoon Henry, the horse, has led his horsey girl friend to water, that is the seashore. He wants to wine and dine her and propose marriage. Not only does she refuse to drink alcohol but she turns down his marriage proposal by telling him she doesn’t want to get hitched, a term meaning to tie together a pair of horses and a slang term for getting married. So he’s doubly unsuccessful, he led her to water and she wouldn’t drink or agree to marry him.
Sample sentence: I got everything ready to my wife’s flight, bought the tickets and even took her to the airport, but she refused to board the plane. It just goes to show you that “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”