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Hold your horses

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 07, 2004

In Reply to: Hold your horses posted by ESC on March 06, 2004

: : : I know what the phrase means but wonder why it's "horses" rather than "horse." One source suggests a horse racing origin but I am unpersuaded.

: : I see it as referring to holding a team of horses that are hitched to a buggy or a wagon.

: "HOLD YOUR HORSES - "Take it easy; keep calm; don't do anything rash. It is what one had to do with horses when they began to get nervous or excited; by 1844 it had been extended to people, as in the 'New Orleans Picayune': 'Oh, hold your horses, Squire, There's no use getting' riled, no how.'" From "The Dictionary of Cliches" by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).

What can you do with one horse? Well, plenty, I suppose, but this phrase originated when a team of two horses was the standard for getting serious work done on a farm. One horse could pull a buggy quite well, and was the norm for the Pony Express, but one horse could not do so well at plowing or haying or any serious farm job. Personally I am far from sure of the explanation given by James Rogers. Farm horses are not particularly excitable. You would hold them if you wished them NOT to begin plowing or whatever. Where I come from "Hold your horses" means "Wait just a damned minute!" The 1844 quotation sounds to me atypical. Perhaps the phrase was used differently in New Orleans, or perhaps it means "Wait, Squire, don't go off half-cocked." SS