It’s quite amazing how much of our every day language is influenced and coloured by idioms that evolved from gambling (cards and horses). I mean what are the odds, eh?
Horse racing is often called the Sport of Kings. That’s because only Royalty, and a few teen-age tech startup tycoons can afford to own and race them, and not end up paupers. A good example, out of the starting gate, is the current discussion about how we continue to elect people. Commentators often refer to political contests as horse races for good reason. The first person (horse – nose, body and back part) past the post is the winner.
Did you ever get a hot stock tip from a work colleague who got the information, straight from the horse’s mouth? At the track the best tips on who the current favourite is, in the equine world, you wanted to speak with the stable workers, the trainers, grooms and so on. They are the ones at ground zero, and with all that horsing around, if anyone knows the good, lame and the swaybacked, and the difference between them, it would be those in immediate proximity to the horse’s mouth. But be careful. If you venture near the other end, be certain to pack a shovel.
Ever suffer a Charley Horse? If you ask what that is, you’ve never been there. It’s a muscle spasm that can occur anywhere, but most frequently is associated with the large muscles of the legs. In the 1800’s a race-horse that became lame with muscle spasms was called a “Charley.” The transfer of that name to people happened on the baseball diamond. It was a time that horses were used to drag the dirt in the ballpark to smooth it out. If a Babe Ruth, or Shoeless Joe cramped up, they compared them to the limping horses working the field. So now you know! Oh, and that pain that’s a little higher, in that large muscle that makes up your butt? That one’s just the boss!
Eating like a horse! This is the description generally applied to someone with a big appetite, aided and abetted by someone hungrier – someone hungry enough to eat a horse let alone eat like one. Besides, if you ate like a horse, you’d be eating two percent of your body weight every day. I don’t know anyone who can eat that much grass no matter how sweet and tender it is. That kind of diet also creates huge quantities of methane gas – whew!
Watch out for the Dark Horse in the company, the team or even the political party. The term refers to something or someone that is little known, or unknown altogether. In the early days of horse racing, a dark horse referred to an animal that few knew anything about, which presented a challenge to gamblers who had difficulty determining the betting odds. I think being a dark horse is a good thing. Wander slowly around the paddock biding your time, never run and that way you’ll never reveal that you’re a moose without the antlers!
I don’t want to nag, but I have to wrap this up, so this last entry is about the white horse and the awe with which it was held by the Romans. Such an animal symbolized victory, and something worthy of a God, so it was in constant demand by triumphant kings, generals, pretenders and wanna-bees. Funny thing about Romans. They also bred the biggest cattle beasts in the world (Chianina). Called Roman Oxen, these snow white cattle could grow to around six foot at the shoulder and weigh 3,500 pounds. And that, my friends is definitely a horse of a different colour!
Next week, I’ll lay all my cards on the table and explore card game idioms. You can bet the farm on it!