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Why Do We Say ‘Hold Your Horses’? — ‘The Why’

Welcome to the newest edition of The Why.Why do we say ‘hold your horses’?” Good question. (OK, it’s a little “English class” but again it beats answering those inquiries about odd intimate acts. Seriously? We thought “Hot Karl” was the name of a racehorse, mmmkay?)

hold your horses

Hold your horses/Image: twitter

For those of you not up on your idioms, the phrase “hold your horses” is used to tell someone to slow down, stop or as the Cambridge Dictionary Online confirms to “?tell someone to ?stop and ?consider ?carefully ?their ?decision or ?opinion about something.” While multiple sources including Wikipedia agree that the idiom is somehow “historically related to horse riding, or driving a horse-drawn vehicle” they are at present “all unverified” and hearken back as far as Ancient Greece.

Yahoo Poster “Rusty Plastic” has one horse-related explanation. He claims that the phrase comes from horseracing and refers to “not letting your horse jump the gun.” He notes that if you go back far enough in the ancient sport’s history you learn that they “didn’t always have those little stalls with the gate the horses are lead into these days. The horses with their riders were led to a starting line and kept behind it until the race started.”

hold your horses

“Hold your horses” is an idiom/Image; HaikuDeck

Both Wikipedia and The Phrase Finder agree on the US origins of the phrase. It dates back to the 19th century.  “It originally was written as ‘hold your hosses‘ and it appears in print that way many times from 1844 onwards. In Picayune (New Orleans) September 1844, we have:

“Oh, hold your hosses, Squire. There’s no use gettin’ riled, no how.”

The site also explains: “It’s clear that hoss is the US slang term for horse, which was certainly known by 1844.” In David Humphreys’ The Yankey in England, 1815:

“The boys see a ghost in the form of a white hoss; and an Indian in every black stump.”

The website also confirms that it would not be until later, in Chatelaine, 1939, that we find the phrase:

“Hold your horses, dear.”

hold your horses

Image: 2164

Additionally, the phrase is used more descriptively in 1943 in Hunt and Pringle’s Service Slang:

“Hold your horses, hold the job until further orders. (comes from the Artillery).”

So there you have it. We can trace the phrase in US history but the phrase is so ancient it’s a little more difficult to learn its idiomatic origins. Still, isn’t learning anything more productive than just horsin’ around?

Why do we say ‘hold your horses’? Now you know.

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About Will Phoenix

W. Scott Phoenix, B.A., B.S. was born in Hawaii, raised in Pennsylvania and resides in California. He has been a published writer since 1978. His work has appeared (under various names) in numerous places in print and online including Examiner.com. He is a single parent of three children and has also worked as an actor, singer and teacher. He has been employed by such publications as the Daily Collegian and the Los Angeles Times.