As a horse lover, I was inspired to delve into horse clichés this week.
Let’s start with “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”. Charby never brings me any gifts, so I wondered about that one. Apparently, as a horse ages the teeth begin to project further forward each year and so the age can be estimated by checking how prominent the teeth are. So, when given a present, be grateful for it and do not look for more by examining it to determine the value. The only thing Charby does give me (aside from a dirty stall) is affection. I would think that is highly valuable.
Then, there’s “get off your high horse”. Most of us know the phrase, it means to become humble, to be less haughty. But where did it come from? Until the 18th century, it was quite literal. Knights and lords mounted on great chargers to show themselves above the commoners and peasants. Thus many statues scattered around England and Europe feature strong men on high horses. After the beginning of the 18th century, it became much more figurative than literal and appeared to great use in literature.
And, let’s not forget, “a horse of a different color”. It means to imply something altogether from the initial proposal, or a completely different personality from the first. Or, it could mean the horse of shifting hues that drew Dorothy’s carriage in Oz. But more likely the speaker was invoking the first meaning. Which seems to originate with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. However,
“Shakespeare used the phrase, as he oftentimes did, as a play on words which indicates that the phrase a “horse of a different color” most likely existed prior to the “horse of that color.”
This makes sense since knights in medieval tournaments rode different-colored horses in races so that spectators could tell which knight was their knight. We know from historical documents that gambling was a favourite pastime in Medieval times and so it is not unreasonable to believe that those who lost bets in tournaments would be told of their loss with news that a “horse of a different color” was victorious.”
This last bit was found on a fellow wordpress blog, and I thank them because I was having a hard time finding the history elsewhere. Check out their full article at idiomation.wordpress.com.
What is your favorite equine based cliche?