Posted by R. Berg on August 09, 2005
In Reply to: English-French-German and Italian idioms posted by R. Berg on August 09, 2005
: : : : Hi community, I am working on a comparison of English-French-German and Italian idioms. I wonder what the origin of "I could eat a horse" could be, I mean, yes, it's an hyperbole, but why could English speaking people eat a horse while in French they "have an appetite like a wolf" (the same in Italian) and in German the appetite could be either of a bear or wolf. German, Italian and French designate the size/strength of appetite while the English idiom refers to what could be eaten. Why a horse? Do you see any cultural implications as regards horsemeat or any geographical reasons (e.g. where bears and wolves are usually to be found)? Any help with that one will be highly appreciated and cited in the paper ! Please feel also free to send me some other idioms and their translations in the four languages in question where the origins of the different realisations of the same semantic image are clear - I'll be very happy to share some of my findings with you as well!
: : : I suspect that the traditional English distaste for horsemeat is part of the meaning of the phrase - "eating a horse" is intrinsically a more extreme idea than "eating a bull/cow/bullock" would be, although the total amount of meat indicated is roughly equivalent. We have also the idiom "to wolf one's food" meaning to eat voraciously, even though there have been no wolves in England for more than 300 years. There is a traditional simile "hungry as a hunter", although it sounds rather old-fashioned now.
: : - I forgot to say that in English you can also eat LIKE a horse (i.e. a lot).
: "English idiom refers to what could be eaten. Why a horse? Do you see any cultural implications as regards horsemeat or any geographical reasons (e.g. where bears and wolves are usually to be found)?" It makes sense to speak of eating a horse but eating LIKE a bear or a wolf. Where there are domestic horses, a horse would be easier to catch than a (wild) bear or wolf. Further, bears and wolves, unlike horses, are predators - in the European mind that produced catchphrases and Grimm's tales, dangerous and feared predators. For that reason, eating is prominent in their images. We also have the phrase "hungry as a bear." Horses eat too, of course, but they wouldn't eat you or your livestock. ~rb
One more thing. The animals that people conventionally regard as food animals, at least in Western cultures, are rather low on the food chain. We don't eat predators, except fish; we eat herbivores. A few exceptions exist, such as ducks that eat fish or chickens that eat insects as well as grain, but the main tendency holds.