Where Did The Phrase ‘Hold Your Horses’ Come From?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the most lopsided presidential election in U.S. history. While researching that topic, I stumbled across this article with the following headline:

Think the election will be a landslide? Hold your horses

That got me wondering about that phrase, “Hold you horses.” Where did it come from? Why, of all animals, should we hold our horses? Let’s find out in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday…

Where Did The Phrase ‘Hold Your Horses’ Come From?

Turns out, the phrase didn’t always tell us to hold our “horses.” Originally, it was said to “hold your hosses”  — evidence coming September 1844 from The Picayune in New Orleans:

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

In the 1800s “hoss” was a slang term for horse. Not until the 1900s do we see the phase as it is known today. A popular example comes from Hunt and Pringle’s Service Slang in 1943:

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

All this is great, but it doesn’t explain why we should hold this specific animal. Why Mr. Ed as opposed to Miss Piggy?

While none have been verified, most of the proposed explanations involve soldiers having to physically hold their horse, so that the animal would not run off. Ancient Roman soldiers would do so when the noise of a battle would get so loud that the animals would be spooked. Similarly, when gunpowder was invented, Chinese soldiers would hold tight to their horses when shots were fired.

Both examples make sense, but now that we no longer ride horses, I can’t help but wonder how long it will be until the idiom to “hold on” becomes, “don’t call an Uber just yet.”


Sources: Wikipedia & Phrases.org.uk




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