Hold Your Horses

Standard

“Antilochus—you drive like a maniac! Hold your horses!
The track’s too narrow here—it widens soon for passing—
watch out—you’ll crash your chariot, wreck us both!”

Homer, Book 23 of “The Iliad”

A Cool Drink

“Hold your horses!” It was a scorching summer afternoon the day we visited my grandparents. I was thirsty, impatient and eager to drink the lemonade my grandmother had made for me. “I don’t have any horses,” I said, my five-year-old mind racing to figure out what horses had to do with wanting a drink.  That day, I discovered that my grandmother rode in a horse-drawn carriage, not a car, when she was my age.  When her father would “hold his horses” that meant he would pull on the reins to let the horses know to stop and wait.

Words give context, and refer to an event.  There are stories behind the words and expressions that we use, some of them dating back to ancient languages, and some borrowed from languages of our time. I’m fairly certain that my grandmother was unaware that others, in centuries past, used the same phrase. Homer, in the Iliad, writes “hold your horses” when Antilochus drives like a madman in a chariot race initiated by Achilles for Patroclus’s funeral games.  Roman soldiers would “hold their horses” when the battle noise raged.  When the Chinese invented gunpowder, they would have to hold their horses, at the sound of the explosions.

One thing that I remember about my grandmother – she had the “patience of Job”

“Hold your horses, hold the job until further orders. (comes from the Artillery)”

Hunt and Pringle’s Service Slang (1943)

29 thoughts on “Hold Your Horses

    • And I am reading your comment in the early morning – a great way to start my day! There is sunshine in Vancouver and I am heading out for an adventure! Glad to hear the horses are safe! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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  1. The service slang book must be a gem. As well as hold your horses, ‘wait your patience’ was a common expression of my younger days.

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      • The link worked! But sadly Amazon does not show the witty illustrations. Does it have shufti? That might be from WW1.

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      • I don’t know if it is in the book, however the online Urban Dictionary has an excellent definition – it does come from WWII

        “A word of Arabic origin meaning “look!” Was brought back to Britain after the Second World War by returning soldiers who had learnt the word from Arab peddlars of dirty postcards. The peddlars used to keep the postcards hidden inside their coats and would show them to soldiers saying “Shufti, shufti!” – “Look, look!”

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  2. Dear Rebecca,
    that is an important point that our languages have a long history. They remember what our conscious mind has long forgotten. Mostly in proverbs and metaphorical expressions we find meanings going back many centuries. This historical dimension makes languages so interesting, every expression is full of connotations which makes laguage so multi-dimensional and lively.
    Thank you very much to make us aware of these dimensions of our languages we are usually not aware of.
    It`s amazing how “modern” Homer`s “Iliad” sounds.
    Me and the busy Bookfayries wish you a very happy day 🙂
    With a big hug
    Klausbernd

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    • Thank you so much for stopping by, Klausbernd! Last night, when I was looking up the passage from the Iliad, I found myself caught up in the story again and had to remind myself that I must finish my post! In the “back of my mind” I have always known that languages are a reflection of culture, values, history – but I did not know the extent! Over the past few months I have been following blogs in other languages using “Google translator.” While it is not a perfect system, I can see there are different ways to express ideas that draw on the diversity of language. I am having so much fun!! Hugs to all! I do love your busy Bookfayries! 🙂

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      • Dear Rebecca,
        it`s strange but when I speak German I am another person as when I speak English. So many different connotations and associations …
        Have a happy evening. I will go out with my boat now 🙂
        A big hug to you
        Klausbernd

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      • My son is taking German language studies at Simon Fraser University – really enjoys the language. How fascinating that language creates different realities. But why does this surprise me? Language has infinite possibilities… Hugs right back to you…

        I am heading out for coffee along the Sea Wall. 🙂

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  3. Just have to ask Becky, was the grandmother – Aunt Lettie or Russ’ mother? Joeleen

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    • Aunt Lettie! I remember the day so well. It was so hot and we were in keeping cool in the basement! That was before the air conditioner. We had so much fun!!!

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  4. we hold our horses, and release the hounds… maybe our children’s children will change the channel.

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    • LOL!!! I’m not certain that they will have channel to change – information will be somehow be accessible through thought. Humanity’s drive for technology is irrepressible. Whether we are early adoptors or late adoptors, technology will move us forward. My hope is that technology is life-affirming, not destructive.

      “Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”
      ― Pablo Picasso

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      • Well said! It is a personal choice! I always ask myself – “what happened to the candle makers after the light bulb was invented?” Remember when we used slide-rules?

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      • yes, I had honors physics with slide rules. Must be why I never learned anything 🙂

        I more think that government will use technology against us unless we are vigilant

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      • We live in very interesting times!

        “When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.”
        ― Thomas Jefferson

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  5. I’ve often heard this said, and even said it myself on occasion, but never gave a thought as to its origin. Thanks for the info, Rebecca. 🙂

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  6. There are so many interesting expressions that we pick up as a child. I remember several– one comes to mind: “Poorer than Job’s turkeys” Brings such color to our language.

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    • Ah “Poorer than Job’s turkeys” – that is what started me on this path to begin with! We have such colourful language!

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  7. Really appreciate this post and the quote above. I’m having a hell of a time with words on the next bit of writing I’m doing and the editor agrees with me (that I’m having a hell of a time). I read something like “It as a scorching summer…” and I ask where do these pearls come from? For a writer there is a constant prayer for the words to surface that do tell the story without blowing off the reader. I can never judge any of it, because all my thoughts about it are so inaccurate. Thank you for this one.

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    • Thank you so much! Just yesterday, the headlines of the Vancouver “The Province” read Con Man “could talk fleas off a dog.” Our language is really about pictures. And when you write, there is an acute awareness that we are working with more than scratches on a page – we are working with thoughts, ideas, symbolism and cultural values that have accumulated over the centuries. It is as if we are passing along history with every word. However inaccurate, we toss the words to the “universe” and trust they someone embraces them in the spirit they were given…

      “When I cannot see words curling like rings of smoke round me I am in darkness—I am nothing.”
      ― Virginia Woolf

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      • Yes, then there’s, “The word is not the thing” Krishnamurti. And, so we do what we do, say what we say, and sometimes are hearts connect to help us really understand what it’s all about. My sure does appreciate yours. ❤

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      • Yes!!!! “hearts do connect.” In the end, it is all about the connections that we have made that gives breath to our existence. And I appreciate yours, my dear friend!! 🙂

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