Friday, May 27, 2011


From the dawn of time our speech has been peppered with idioms. Sage advice, on any given topic, seemed to spring unbidden to those who had the raising of us. Words of wisdom were such a fixture in our daily lives. A stitch in time saves nine.

Where did they come from? What was their history and purpose?

To narrow the field on this vast topic, I decided to give myself a head start by taking a gander at idioms having their origins in the sport of Kings, namely, horse racing.

Not wanting to jump the gun on all other sports, I chose the races because they seemed a safe bet. I got the inside track on how these phrases found their way into the language.

In my family of origin, the baton was passed on to us from our paternal grandfather whose entire life could be described as a race against time; it was his stated mission to become a breeder of some renown. Not hoisted on his own petard, he paid his dues, put in his time and had to make many a difficult decision. Scratching the odds on favorite from the race, if the trainer declared the horse to be unsound, often put him between a rock and a hard place. He put us all through our paces, teaching us, not only the sport, but the sayings associated with it. My sisters both really hit their stride; they had the whip hand over me when it came to placing bets. I was always the dark horse in the field, given to day dreaming and hands down, never slated to either win, place or show. While I may have gotten off to less than a running start, we are not down to the wire yet. I would never consider myself to be a neck and neck competitor with either of my sisters, in any endeavor. However, now that I am a bit long in the tooth, I may be heading into the home stretch in terms of gaining confidence in my own abilities. Either I am riding for a fall, or may surprise everyone and win by a nose. Time will have to tell the tale.

As you may have ascertained from this exercise, one does not set out deliberately to use idioms in common speech. They will spring, unbidden to our minds, and we would be the poorer, as a culture if they were to fall by the wayside altogether. I tend to see them as a rich part of our heritage: in for a penny, in for a pound, but do not, by any means, set out to gild the lily. That would be a crying shame which I would rather avoid like the plague.

1 comment:

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

I say you'll win by a nose :))