Say What? 5 Everyday Phrases That Originated From Horses

November 5th, 2015 3:21 PM | No Comments

tumblr_ms96fwiqzW1sfie3io1_1280It’s Throwback Thursday, and we thought it would it would be fun to take a look at what phrases in everyday English originated from the horse world.  While horses aren’t on the minds of everyone like they were in the past (sadly), many common phrases got their beginnings back in the days when horses were more than just a hobby and enjoyment, but a necessity to every day life.

  • “Be there with bells on”- Used today, it means along the lines of attending an event with enthusiasm.  However, back when carriages were the mode of transportation, bells were a decoration added to the harness of the horses for special occasions like holidays, parades, and such.  If someone was attending an event “with bells on,” they weren’t just attending, but attending in style.
  • “Curb your enthusiasm”- While every horse person knows the meaning of the word “curb” as it pertains to the equestrian world, many don’t realize that this popular phrase is also equestrian related.  While basically meaning “to contain” or “hold back”, the phrase originated from the very meaning of “curb” in reference to curb bits.  Like a curb bit was seen as “holding back” a horse, to curb ones enthusiasm is to “hold back” their excitement.


  • “Across the board”- while this term is used everyday to mean “relating to everything,” this was originally a racing term that showed up in the early 20th century.  If you placed your bet “across the board,” you made a bet that your horse would run either first, second, or third.
  • “Hands down”- Another term that originated from horse racing, today is used to mean win or succeed easily and without question.  It came from the practice of jockeys loosening their reins and lowering their hands when they won.
  • “Dead ringer”- While many report that this phrase originated from The Middle Ages as a precaution against burying people alive by tying a bell to their finger when they were buried, this phrase also originally got its start in horses.  In the 19th century, a “ringer” was a horse that was used as a “stand-in” for another horse in a race.  It was common practice to swap out horses with slower ones for betting purposes, but for this to work, the horses had to be close to identical.  A horse raced under another horse’s name was called a “ringer,” and in the 1800′s, “dead” (in this case) was used to mean “exactly or precisely,” hence the term “dead ringer.”


Leave a Reply