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Today's Word



Aug 31, 2020
This week’s theme
Words with horse-related origins

This week’s words
wheel horse
horse's mouth

wheel horse
Wheel horses, in dark coats
Art: John Cameron, 1887

Previous week’s theme
Words that appear to be misspellings
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with Anu Garg

What do you call a horse who says no to riding?
A neigh-sayer.

Horses have been a hardworking part of our lives over the years. As a result, they have left their hoof prints all over the language. From putting the cart before the horse (doing something in the wrong order) to backing the wrong horse (losing candidate), the English language has dozens of words, phrases, and idioms that employ horses metaphorically.

I say that’s the best way to put horses to work, by letting them serve us metaphorically in the language. We don’t have to ride on their backs any more.

This week we have picked five terms with horses in their origins, some obvious, some not. Now we’re champing at the bit* -- can’t wait to share them with you.

*If you’re champing at the bit, you’re eager to get started or you’re being impatient at something. “To champ at the bit” is the original (since 1885), but “chomping at the bit” (1937) is more common these days. The word “chomp” (1645) is an alteration of the original “champ” (1530). Whether you champ at the bit or chomp, it’s fine either way, though they say patience is a virtue.

wheel horse

(HWEEL hors)

1. Someone responsible and diligent, especially one who bears the biggest share of burden in a group.
2. A horse harnessed closest to the front wheel(s) of a carriage.

From wheel, from Old English hweol + horse, from Old English hors. Earliest documented use: 1708.

“Germany is widely viewed as the economic wheel horse of the EU and, in that sense, is on the hook.”
Greece’s Turmoil: Wall Street’s Role in the Crisis Should Be Revealed; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania); Mar 4, 2010.

“[Chris Pronger] is the wheel horse of a defensive side that smothers high-flying offences.”
David Shoalts; Immovable Net-Front Object, Meet Irresistible Blueline Force; The Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada); May 28, 2010.

See more usage examples of wheel horse in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

The fingers of your thoughts are molding your face ceaselessly. -Charles Reznikoff, poet (31 Aug 1894-1976)

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