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Get on the bit

Posted by Terry on October 24, 2007

"Get on the bit!" is a phrase my father used at least 50 million times on us kids when we were growing up. It meant to quit fooling around, and tend to the business at hand.

I heard it so often, I assumed it was a commonly used phrase, until I started using it as my e-mail address. Then I discovered almost no one had ever heard of it.

My father thought it was an expression he picked up in the US Cavalry, when he served with them shortly before and into WWII. He was in the horse cavalry. A horse is said to "be on the bit," when his head is in proper position, so that the bridle's bit has maximum effect on him, and the horse is paying attention, and pushing into the bit. A rider on a horse who is above the bit or below the bit, does not have proper control of his mount.

I have used the expression with civilian horsemen, and most have never heard of the expression, as used by my father. So I assume it is of US military in origin.

I'm curious if others have heard this expression, and if they have other ideas about its origins.