Wordcraft Home Page    Wordcraft Community Home Page    Forums  Hop To Forum Categories  The Vocabulary Forum    Terms from Horse Racing
Go
New
Find
Notify
Tools
Reply
  
Terms from Horse Racing Login/Join
 
Member
Picture of wordcrafter
posted
Long-time readers will recall our previous themes of horse words. To mark last weekend's running of the U.S.'s greatest horse race, the Kentucky Derby, we devote this week to terms from horse racing. Credit to Nathan Bierma, whose newspaper column suggested the idea and words.

Your wordcrafter isn't knowledgeable about horse racing. I apologize for any errors, and appreciate any corrections.

across the board – covering all categories

    [Australian] Prime Minister John Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello have finalized a last-minute package of across-the-board tax cuts … which will be announced in the federal budget on Tuesday.
    – Forbes, May 7, 2006
Origin: One can bet on a horse to come in first, or second, or third (win, place, or show) . Hence the three top finishers will be posted on the winner board. If you place all three bets, you are betting 'across the board'.

Was Oxford English Dictionary, which says this is a U.S. English, a bit provincial in its research? It gives no usage examples before 1950 (citing Websters) even though the term goes back to the very beginning of the century. For example, a bit of 1910 doggerel from the Washington Post and other papers includes the couplet, "I really wish I could afford / To play my horse across the board." The earliest use I've found seems to suggest insider information: "Elnus, … a 100 to 1 shot, heavily played across the board, ran second."
 
Posts: 2670Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of wordcrafter
posted Hide Post
dark horse – a competitor, among many, who makes (or is tabbed as having the potential to make) an unexpectedly good showing
Most dictionaries apply the term only to a success achieved in horse-races and political races. This errs: the term includes potential success in other fields. From today's press:
    Everybody loves Phil … We also like Tiger, Retief and Vijay. Want a dark horse? How about Mark Hensby.
    – The Journal News, May 9, 2006, "handicapping" a golf tournament.

    While the race could go to either the tortoise or the hare, there is another animal in the contest: a dark horse. Nintendo Co. is rolling out its console, dubbed Wii, about the same time as PlayStation 3.
    – Wall Street Journal, May 9, 2006
Etymology: OED dates 'dark horse' to a 1831 Benjamin Disraeli novel.* Bierma notes, "The darkness may be figurative -- fans were 'in the dark' about the horse's abilities -- or it may be somehow literal [in that] 'horses that regularly won races were darkened to conceal their identity and increase the betting odds.'"

Let's resolve this. This cite precedes 1831 and shows that the "darkness" is figurative, not literal, to the benefit of those bettors "in the know".
    What is termed an outside or dark horse always tells well for heavy bettors.
    – Edinburgh Advertiser, Sept. 24, 1822

*I think it's unclear if Disraeli's word 'dark' refers to the horse's success or simply his color.
 
Posts: 2670Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of wordcrafter
posted Hide Post
Near the end of a race, a jockey with a big lead might relax his tug on the reins and let the horse "coast" past the finish line. That is, he would finish an easy victory riding "hands down".

hands down – easy; easily
So say the dictionaries, but would you agree that the term is only used in the sense of "surpassing others"? For example, one couldn't say, "This was an hands down parking space to get into; I could park hands down."
    Buffy and Cordelia appeared, walking along as if they were the best of friends, and Wilow knew that that took the weirdness prize, hands down.
    – Christopher Golden, Nancy Holder, Child of the Hunt (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
 
Posts: 2670Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of wordcrafter
posted Hide Post
get one's goat – to anger; to annoy; to irritate

OED's earliest cite is 1910, but one can find quite a few more back to 1908. The most prevalent theory traces the phrase to horse racing, saying that a goat would be stabled with a horse, to calm it. Thus stealing the goat, before a horse-race, would tend to disrupt the horse's performance.

This race-track theory has some appeal. We do know that goats were believed to calm other animals (see 'Judas goat', esp. entry of 12/29). A contemporary account notes that goats were indeed stabled with horses in some areas, but adds that this was because the goat was considered lucky; hence to 'get one's goat' was to take away one's luck. (Washington Post, Sept. 25, 1910)

Nonetheless, I doubt any race-track theory. Why? Because I've found no early use of the phrase, and no reference to goat-stealing, in any connection with horses or horse-racing. Indeed, substantial numbers of the early references are in the context of baseball.
 
Posts: 2670Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of LoriL
posted Hide Post
quote:
Indeed, substantial numbers of the early references are in the context of baseball.



So....they kept goats in....the bullpen?
Big Grin
 
Posts: 51 | Location: Seattle, WA USAReply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of wordcrafter
posted Hide Post
shoo-in – a certain winner; one sure to succeed
    In their 1948 National Convention, the Democrats under President Harry Truman were in particular disarray. [details] As a result, Republican Thomas E. Dewey was considered a shoo-in.
    – William Safire, Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History
The term began as a reference to a race that was fixed: the jockeys held back and would "shoo" or urge ahead the pre-arranged winner. Now, however, the term has no connotation that the victory is illicit.
 
Posts: 2670Reply With QuoteReport This Post
<Asa Lovejoy>
posted
And the winner is... Beetlebaum!!! (See Spike Jones/Doodles Weaver)
 
Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of wordcrafter
posted Hide Post
also-ran – a loser in a race or contest. (Wordcrafter note: tends to imply a unimportant and forgettable one, not close enough to be notable.)
A newspaper reporting horse races would name those who won money for their bettors. It would then, under the heading "also ran:", then list the others.
    In 1961 R.J. Reynolds had the largest market share (almost 35 percent), greatest size, and highest profitability in the tobacco industry. Philip Morris, on the other hand, was a sixth-place also-ran with less than 10 percent market share.
    – Jim Collins, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies
 
Posts: 2670Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Member
Picture of wordcrafter
posted Hide Post
front runner – the contestant in the lead in a race or other competition
    Let's say you are the kind of person who might contribute $1,000 to a [political] candidate. … The one candidate you won't contribute to is a sure loser. … So front-runners and incumbents raise a lot more money than long shots.
    – Steven D. Levitt, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything
The term comes from horse racing – but it did not mean the horse in the lead while a race is in progress. When you think about it, there would be little occasion to use a word with that meaning, since the race would be finished, and determined, within a few dozen seconds.

Rather, the term is from trotting horses. When a top horse attempted to set a record, he would be given perfect conditions: a horse on each side to pace him, and a horse in front to break the wind resistance. That front horse was the 'front runner'. The following quote, antedating OED's, that makes this clear.
    She closed a brilliant season [in 1903] by trotting in 1:58½, aided, however, not only by side runners to make the pace, but by a front runner with a wind or dirt shield on the cart. Naturally this lessened the task for the trotter, as it removed much of the resistance of the air.
    – Evening Telegram (Elyria, Ohio), August 26, 1910
 
Posts: 2670Reply With QuoteReport This Post
  Powered by Social Strata  
 

Wordcraft Home Page    Wordcraft Community Home Page    Forums  Hop To Forum Categories  The Vocabulary Forum    Terms from Horse Racing

Copyright © 2002-12