Posted by R. Berg on February 15, 2008 at 18:01:
In Reply to: Off to the races posted by Smokey Stover on February 15, 2008 at 09:21:
: : : : What is the origin of the phrase "off to the races"?
: : : When you set off to anything or anywhere, you may be said to be "off to" it/them. You can be "off on holiday/to work/to the cinema/to the races" or any number of other things. (VSD)
: : I'm off on the morning train. I'll cross the raging main. I'm off to my love with a boxing glove ten thousand miles away.
: : I'm thinking that one would have heard "I'm off to the races" rather more frequently several decades ago than at present, at least in the U.S. Horse-racing used to be much more popular, much more a destination for people seeking entertainment, than it is today, although a few well-known races remain very popular.
: : SS
: This discussion has so far not addressed the fact that in these particular idiomatic uses of "off" as an adverb, there is an unspoken verb, usually a verb of motion, although "to set off" is a verbal phrase which is itself a verb of motion, or can be used as such.
: We don't need the missing verb when we say, "I'm off to the races," or "I'm off on the morning train." The verb has been elided, as unnecessary. There are many verbs of motion, most conspicuously "to go." Can we add the verb in these examples without sounding silly, or destroying the sense. Can we say, "I'm going off to the races"? Or, "I'm going off on the morning train"? Doubtless we can, although perhaps we might prefer, "He set off on the morning train." When it's I, it might be a different choice.
: We can use several verbs with "off" when there is no qualification following it. I'm going off by myself for a while. I went off to think. I drove off to my mother's house. Johnny wandered off into the woods. Most of these verbs can be used with "off" alone, that is, without any qualification. Johnny wandered off. I drove off. But the exception is "go." You can go off to be alone. But you can't just go off, because that means you explode.
"Off" is more understandable if interpreted as "away from here," as in "offstage," sometimes rendered in stage directions as "Off." ~rb