Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Horsing Around

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 19, 2011

Whether you’re taking part in boisterous play, teasing, or not taking a situation seriously, have you ever been told to stop horsing around?  That’s because horses — like humans — charge around to release energy, sometimes with little warning that the horse is about do just that.  The end result of this kind of behaviour in horses is that sometimes they wind up bolting which causes all sorts of problems in itself.

Some of you may remember that back in June 2000, country singers Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw along with road manager Mark Russo got into a scuffle with police at a music festival near Buffalo, NY.  In the end, a jury found them not guilty for their roles in the ruckus.  The news story carried by the Eugene Register Guard in Oregon in May 2001 read:

Singer Just Horsing Around, Jury Decides

Forty years before that incident, the Lewiston Evening Journal carried a story on January 2, 1960 about “the serious business of deciding conference champions” on the college basketball front.  The news story headline read:

College Cagers Will Not Be Horsing Around Tonight

Back on February 1, 1932 journalist Strickland Gillian wrote “The Washington Wash” for the Los Angeles Times.  The story spoke about debts and the habit of passing the buck with regards to that debt. 

It’s all cockeyed.  What is the rising generation to learn about honesty and regarding obligations with nations horsing around this way over every debt? Carter Glass has been trying hard all this session of Congress to do something to remedy the situation.

The Chicago Daily Tribune published a story entitled, “Retailer Blamed For High Prices” on May 12, 1909.  It addressed the comments made by Senator Scott who precipitated a discussion in the Senate that led to charges that retail dealer were charging consumers outrageous prices for household goods.

“Why should you ask me to be less boisterous,” retorted Mr. Tillman, “when some other Senators have been high-horsing around here as if they were in a circus?”  Mr. McLaurin chided the Republicans with having abandoned the theory that the foreigner pays the tax, and asked to know who did pay the tax if the duty did not raise the price.

The expression “horsing around” grew from the phrase “horseplay.” 

Bishop Joseph Butler‘s first recorded visit to Durham was in May, 1751, when he met a few people on his way to Stockton. At Barnard Castle, he wrote that a crowd gathered round him, and “in rough horse-play some of the rabble pumped water on the listeners from a fire-engine which they brought up.”

A letter written in 1668 by Bishop Burnet to Sir William Morrice, discussing the falling out between the Duke of Buckingham and Lord Arlington, he wrote:

The Lapland knots are untied, and we are in horrid storms: those that hunted together, now hunt one another; but, at horse-play, the mater of the horse must have the better.

In April 1534, Sir Thomas More wrote a letter to his daughter, Margaret Roper that detailed how he had appeared before Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a number of the clergy.   He was strongly urged to take the oath recognizing King Henry VIII as the head of the Church of England; More had refused.  The result was that the archbishop pressed him even harder to take the oath.  He spoke to his daughter of how he saw Latimer “amusing himself at horse-play with his friends in the Lambeth Garden.”  Shortly thereafter, More was committed to the Tower where he wrote “A Dialogue of Comforte Against Tribulacyon” and his property was seized by the King.

Since Sir Thomas More used the term horse-play with such ease in a letter to his daughter in 1534, it is reasonable to believe it was common usage at the time and therefore, readers can guess that the term “horse-play” dates back to at least 1528.

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