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Back the wrong horse

a large, solid-hoofed, herbivorous quadruped, Equus caballus, domesticated since prehistoric times, bred in a number of varieties, and used for carrying or pulling loads, for riding, and for racing.
a fully mature male animal of this type; stallion.
any of several odd-toed ungulates belonging to the family Equidae, including the horse, zebra, donkey, and ass, having a thick, flat coat with a narrow mane along the back of the neck and bearing the weight on only one functioning digit, the third, which is widened into a round or spade-shaped hoof.
something on which a person rides, sits, or exercises, as if astride the back of such an animal:
rocking horse.
Also called trestle. a frame, block, etc., with legs, on which something is mounted or supported.

vaulting horse.
pommel horse.

Carpentry. carriage (def 7).
soldiers serving on horseback; cavalry:
a thousand horse.
Slang. a man; fellow.
Often, horses. Informal. horsepower.
horses, Slang. the power or capacity to accomplish something, as by having enough money, personnel, or expertise:
Our small company doesn’t have the horses to compete against a giant corporation.
Chess Informal. a knight.
Slang. a crib, translation, or other illicit aid to a student’s recitation; trot; pony.
Mining. a mass of rock enclosed within a lode or vein.
Nautical, traveler (def 6b).
Shipbuilding. a mold of a curved frame, especially one used when the complexity of the curves requires laying out at full size.
Slang. heroin.
to provide with a horse or horses.
to set on horseback.
to set or carry on a person’s back or on one’s own back.
Carpentry. to cut notches for steps into (a carriage beam).
to move with great physical effort or force:
It took three men to horse the trunk up the stairs.

to make (a person) the target of boisterous jokes.
to perform boisterously, as a part or a scene in a play.


to caulk (a vessel) with a hammer.
to work or haze (a sailor) cruelly or unfairly.

Archaic. to place (someone) on a person’s back, in order to be flogged.
to mount or go on a horse.
(of a mare) to be in heat.
Vulgar. to have coitus.
of, for, or pertaining to a horse or horses:
the horse family; a horse blanket.
drawn or powered by a horse or horses.
mounted or serving on horses:
horse troops.
unusually large.
horse around, Slang. to fool around; indulge in horseplay.
back the wrong horse, to be mistaken in judgment, especially in backing a losing candidate.
beat / flog a dead horse, to attempt to revive a discussion, topic, or idea that has waned, been exhausted, or proved fruitless.
from the horse’s mouth, Informal. on good authority; from the original or a trustworthy source:
I have it straight from the horse’s mouth that the boss is retiring.
hold one’s horses, Informal. to check one’s impulsiveness; be patient or calm:
Hold your horses! I’m almost ready.
horse of another color, something entirely different.
Also, horse of a different color.
look a gift horse in the mouth, to be critical of a gift.
To horse!, Mount your horse! Ride!
a domesticated perissodactyl mammal, Equus caballus, used for draught work and riding: family Equidae related adjective equine
the adult male of this species; stallion
wild horse

a horse (Equus caballus) that has become feral
another name for Przewalski’s horse

any other member of the family Equidae, such as the zebra or ass
(as modifier): the horse family

(functioning as pl) horsemen, esp cavalry: a regiment of horse
short for Baja California Norte
a narrow board supported by a pair of legs at each end, used as a frame for sawing or as a trestle, barrier, etc
a contrivance on which a person may ride and exercise
a slang word for heroin
(mining) a mass of rock within a vein of ore
(nautical) a rod, rope, or cable, fixed at the ends, along which something may slide by means of a thimble, shackle, or other fitting; traveller
(chess) an informal name for knight
(informal) short for horsepower
(modifier) drawn by a horse or horses: a horse cart
a horse of another colour, a horse of a different colour, a completely different topic, argument, etc
(informal) be on one’s high horse, get on one’s high horse, to be disdainfully aloof
flog a dead horse, See flog (sense 6)
hold one’s horses, to hold back; restrain oneself
horses for courses, a policy, course of action, etc modified slightly to take account of specific circumstances without departing in essentials from the original
the horse’s mouth, the most reliable source
to horse!, an order to mount horses
(transitive) to provide with a horse or horses
to put or be put on horseback
(transitive) to move (something heavy) into position by sheer physical strength

Old English hors, from Proto-Germanic *hursa- (cf. Old Norse hross, Old Frisian hors, Middle Dutch ors, Dutch ros, Old High German hros, German Roß “horse”), of unknown origin, connected by some with PIE root *kurs-, source of Latin currere “to run” (see current (adj.)).

The usual Indo-European word is represented by Old English eoh, from PIE *ekwo- “horse” (see equine). In many other languages, as in English, this root has been lost in favor of synonyms, probably via superstitious taboo on uttering the name of an animal so important in Indo-European religion.

Used since at least late 14c. of various devices or appliances which suggest a horse (e.g. sawhorse). To ride a horse that was foaled of an acorn (1670s) was through early 19c. a way to say “be hanged from the gallows.” Slang for heroin is first attested 1950. Horse latitudes first attested 1777, the name of unknown origin, despite much speculation. Dead horse as a figure for “something that has ceased to be useful” is attested from 1630s.

HORSEGODMOTHER, a large masculine wench; one whom it is difficult to rank among the purest and gentlest portion of the community. [John Trotter Brockett, “A Glossary of North Country Words,” 1829]

The horse’s mouth as a source of reliable information is from 1921, perhaps originally of racetrack tips, from the fact that a horse’s age can be determined accurately by looking at its teeth. To swap horses while crossing the river (a bad idea) is from the American Civil War and appears to have been originally one of Abe Lincoln’s stories. Horse and buggy meaning “old-fashioned” is recorded from 1926 slang, originally in reference to a “young lady out of date, with long hair.” The proverbial gift horse was earlier given horse:

No man ought to looke a geuen hors in the mouth. [Heywood, 1546]

The modern form perhaps traces to Butler’s “Hudibras” (1663), where the tight iambic tetrameter required a shorter phrase:

He ne’er consider’d it, as loth
To look a Gift-horse in the mouth.


Old English horsian “to provide with a horse or horses,” from horse (n.). Related: Horsed; horsing. Sense of “to play excessive jokes on” is by 1893, mostly in formation horse around (1928), perhaps from horseplay.

[A] favorite pastime for many men is to “horse” or guy a friend who has shown himself susceptible to ridicule or fun making. “Horsing” is extremely wholesome mental discipline for over sensitive or super-conceited young men. “Horsing” always implies a joke at another’s expense. As to how it came into use there is no satisfactory theory to offer. [“Yale Literary Magazine,” December 1893]


Heroin; shit: They shoot horse in the john at the local high school/ After about 1952, nobody called it horse any more (1940s+ Narcotics)
A hard-drug addict (1940s+ Narcotics)
A prison guard paid by inmates to smuggle letters and other contraband in and out •See mule, ”a person paid to carry smuggled drugs” (1960s+ Prison)
A truck or a tractor (1940s+ Truckers)
An honest, hardworking police officer: We know who the horses are around here, every cop in the department knows (1960s+ Police)


To play and idle; fool around, horse around: He wasn’t just horsing now/ The Badgers lapse into their old ways, horsing up shots (1927+)
To do the sex act with or to; screw: there ain’t goin’ to be any immoral horsin’ goin’ on
To fool; ridicule; trick (1901+)

Related Terms

dark horse, dead horse, does a wooden horse have a hickory dick, enough to choke a horse, from the horse’s mouth, get on one’s high horse, get on one’s horse, iron horse, one-horse, one-horse town, warhorse

[the sense ”heroin” may have derived fr shit, ”heroin,” by way of horseshit, although the derivation might well have gone in the other direction; or perhaps the sense is based on the sobriquet of a Damon Runyon character Harry the Horse by way of the partial rhyme of Harry with heroin; second verb sense used of stallions and mares by 1420]

always referred to in the Bible in connection with warlike operations, except Isa. 28:28. The war-horse is described Job 39:19-25. For a long period after their settlement in Canaan the Israelites made no use of horses, according to the prohibition, Deut. 17:16. David was the first to form a force of cavalry (2 Sam. 8:4). But Solomon, from his connection with Egypt, greatly multiplied their number (1 Kings 4:26; 10:26, 29). After this, horses were freely used in Israel (1 Kings 22:4; 2 Kings 3:7; 9:21, 33; 11:16). The furniture of the horse consisted simply of a bridle (Isa. 30:28) and a curb (Ps. 32:9).

Also, bet on the wrong horse. Guess wrongly or misjudge a future outcome, as in Jones garnered only a few hundred votes; we obviously backed the wrong horse, or Counting on the price of IBM to rise sharply was betting on the wrong horse. Transferred from wagering money on a horse that fails to win the race, a usage dating from the late 1600s, this term is widely applied to elections and other situations of uncertain outcome.

horse around
horse of a different color, a
horse sense
horse trading


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