phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Horses, devil and the sea, threshold

Posted by ESC on June 08, 2000

In Reply to: Horses for courses and more???? posted by mandy on June 08, 2000

: I am studying journalism and need to find the meanings and origins of these phrases. Please Help if you can.

: "horses for courses"
: "on the threshold"
: "between the devil and the deep blue sea"

: I have a meaning for the latter but have no idea where it originated, please help.

HORSES FOR COURSES - This is a racing term. I know that it is used in Kentucky. The "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997, Page 339) says: "A mostly British expression urging someone to stick to the thing he knows best, 'horses for courses' comes from the horse racing world, where it is widely assumed that some horses race better on certain courses than on others. In 1898 a British writer noted in the first recorded use of the expression: 'A familiar phrase on the turf is 'horses for courses.'"

BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP SEA - "On the horns of a dilemma.William Walker, in 1670, when compiling his 'Phraseologia Anglo-Latina'; or 'Phrases of the English and Latin Tongue,' included this expression in his list, probably finding it used by some earlier writer of Latin; but if so, his source is no longer known. The phrase is listed, however, by James Kelly, in 1721, in his 'Complete Collection of Scotish Proverbs.' The view that it is of Scottish origin is supported by the fact that it is to be found in the account written by Colonel Robert Monro, a doughty Scot (in) 'His Expedition with the worthy Scots Regiment called Mac-Keyes Regiment'(about his experiences in the 1600s)." From "A Hog on Ice" by Charles Earle Funk (Harper & Row, New York, 1948, Page 50).

The "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996, Page 29) lists the phrase as BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA. "Between equally dangerous options. The expression is of nautical origin where 'the devil' means the seam on a ship's deck nearest its side. Hence, anyone who found himself between the devil and the waterline of a ship or the deep blue sea had a very narrow margin for choice. The verb 'to be' is usually used before the phrase. The word 'blue' is often omitted."

THRESHOLD - "Farmers originally threshed wheat, separated the grain from the chaff, by trodding on piles of it. According to this theory, the trodding seemed similar to wiping one's feet at the doorway of a house, which took the name threshold from such threshing. In any case, the word is first recorded in about A.D. 1900." The "Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings" by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996, Page 667). On the threshold means at the beginning of some experience, project, etc.