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Kick over the traces

Posted by Smokey Stover on December 28, 2006

In Reply to: Kick over the traces posted by Smokey Stover on December 28, 2006

: : : : : Can you add the phrase "Kick over the traces" with its meaning please

: : : : A horse is harnessed to a carriage, wagon or cart with traces, which are the leather straps that run horizontally along the horse's sides. If through overexcitement or excess of energy the horse starts to buck and kick out, if it isn't quickly brought under control it may manage to kick right over the traces, i.e. get its leg over these straps. Your horse and cart are now in a horrid mess - a bit like having your dog wrap its lead round your legs and a lamp-post, but much more dangerous and harder to disentangle. (VSD)

: : : It this something used metaphorically? Used currently, or now archaic?

: : It's used metaphorically for people who are supposed to follow certain rules and protocols, but get out of line--deliberately. With horses it's sometimes hard to say what's deliberate or not. Humans who kick over the traces do it on purpose, but sometimes they are provoked. If you yank somebody's chain, he may kick over the traces. Sorry about the mixed metaphor. Sometimes kicking over the traces is a bid for freedom of a sort, frequently on the part of humans, sometimes on the part of horses. But someone else will have to supply examples.
: : SS

: No, I'll supply examples, cribbed from the OED, which treats "kick over the traces"in the same paragraph as "kick against the pricks." Their definition is:

: s.v. kick over the traces: " 1861 H. KINGSLEY Ravenshoe xlii, I'll go about with the rogue. He is inclined to kick over the traces, but I'll whip him in a little... 1876 L. STEPHEN Hours in Library II. 354 The effervescence of genius which drives men to kick over the traces of respectability."

: I'd add something about "the growing boy with a repressive and demanding father, who eventually kicks over the traces and claims his freedom." Actually, since youths must all eventually claim their freedom, they all must sooner or later kick over the traces of obedience in home and school.

: Permit me to add to Victoria's excellent explanation of what traces are, by saying that they connect the horse's collar to the swingle-tree, and therefore are the chief means of harnessing (!) the horse's strength and effort to the vehicle being pulled. (The collar sits on the horse's shoulders, where the full strength of the animal can be brought to bear without hurting him or her.)
: SS

Oops! Back up to "their definition is:" For horses, it's pretty much as Victoria has said. For humans, "fig. to throw off the usual restraints." Pretty much a no-brainer. I always thought it was a pretty obvious metaphor, but then, I'm a farm boy.