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The meaning and origin of the expression: On your tod

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On your tod

Meaning

On your own.

Origin

This is one of the best-known examples of Cockney rhyming slang (on your tod -> on your Tod Sloan -> on your own). It's a common device of rhyming slang to use the name of a popular celebrity. Other contenders for 'on your own' are 'on your Jack' (Jones - UK) and 'on your Pat' (Malone - Australia). Fame can be fleeting though and none of these are exactly household names now.

on your todJames Forman (Tod) Sloan was born in Indiana in 1874 and overcame neglect and poverty in his early life to become a highly successful jockey. Initially rejected by his parents, his life changed when he discovered his talent as a jockey and began to win prestigious and lucrative races. His success was based on the short-stirrup style of riding, sitting high on the horse's neck, which he developed himself - called the 'monkey crouch'. Despite his start in life as an uneducated and malnourished street urchin, Sloan lived the American dream by becoming one of the world's best-known sportsmen. He adopted the name Todhunter and embarked on a flamboyant lifestyle, complete with fast cars, adoring women and a personal valet. George M. Cohan's song The Yankee Doodle Boy, from the show Little Johnny Jones, was based on Sloan's life:

I'm a Yankee Doodle dandy,
A Yankee Doodle, do or die;
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam's,
Born on the Fourth of July.
I've got a Yankee Doodle sweetheart,
She's my Yankee Doodle joy.
Yankee Doodle came to London,
Just to ride the ponies,
I am a Yankee Doodle boy.

Having won all there was to win in America, Sloan turned his attention to England - then the epicentre of the racing establishment. In 1897 he was engaged by the Prince of Wales as his principal rider. Sloan was initially the subject of ridicule for his riding style and was called 'monkey jockey' by the English press. He continued his winning ways though and a considerable tide of resentment grew against his success, but also against his brashness and allegations of his illegal betting on his own races. He was personally disliked by many of his acquaintances as his lack of social graces often led to him being considered rude and disdainful.

Sloan's fall from grace was as spectacular as his previous success. Following pressure from Lord Durham, the steward of The Jockey Club, the sport's controlling body, The Prince of Wales dismissed him. In December 1900, The New York Times reported that:

"Now the Prince of Wales has thrown him over no English owner is likely to employ him."

He was later informed by The Jockey Club that he "need not apply for a licence" for the 1901 season due to unspecified "conduct prejudicial to the best interests of the sport". There were allegations of jealousy and anti-Americanism in the US press. These were no doubt justified but it seems that the primary motivation was that they just didn't like him. Whatever the cause, the racing ban was upheld in America too and his career was effectively over. After some ill-fated attempts to open businesses and break into film acting, Sloan faded from public view. He was married and divorced twice but died alone, of cirrhosis, in 1933.

It is rather poignant that Sloan's name should have become synonymous with solitude. Both his early and late life seem lonely and depressing. In his autobiography, called with some feeling 'Tod Sloan by Himself', he wrote of his sadness at being abandoned by his long-dead parents - "I was left alone by those I have never ceased to grieve for".