Hold Your Horses (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Hold Your Horses"?

The term "hold your horses" means be patient or slow down.
Hold Your Horses (Origin)
"Hold your horses" originates from a time before cars, when horse transportation was common. The term was used literally to tell someone to stop their horses or prevent them from moving off. Nowadays, it is used figuratively to mean be patient or slow down.

Related Theory

"Hold your horses" was a term commonly heard on New York's Erie Canal in the early-to-mid-19th century. At this time, a high proportion of transportation logistics was carried out with barges towed by horses on the tow-paths that ran alongside the water. The tow-paths often became busy with horse teams, and, when confusion arose, a horse-team leader would call "hold your horses" to nearby teams, while the passing or overtaking was managed.

Supporters of this theory note that the term was not in use until 1836 (evidence), just over a decade after the Erie canal was completed in 1825. They assert that if the term simply meant "stop your horses," then it would have been seen long before 1825. Even though it means "stop your horses" in the Erie-canal context, it was a standard instruction along the Erie's tow-paths, which cemented its place in our language.

Detractors of this theory claim that the full expression is "hold your horses there, cowboy," meaning its origins stem from cattle herding rather than canal transportation. However, this is assessed to be a modern addition to the saying, designed to give it a witty yet belligerent edge (much like "steady there, tiger").

Grammatically speaking, "hold your horses" is an imperative sentence (i.e., an instruction).

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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs

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