Jeffrey Miller

A Writer's Life

I’m going to see a man about a horse

Have you ever stopped to think about some of the English colloquialisms we use and their origin, not to mention why we even use them in the first place?

We use these colorful colloquialisms all the time and they are a rich part of our language and for someone who has made a living out of teaching our language, I am sometimes curious as to the origins and usage of some of these expressions.

To see a man, to see a man about a dog, or to see a man about a horse according to Wikipedia, “is an English language colloquialism, usually used as a smiling apology for one’s departure or absence-generally as a bland euphemism to conceal one’s true purpose.”

The phrase has several meanings but all refer to taking one’s leave for some urgent purpose, especially to go to the bathroom or going to buy a drink. On the other hand, “the original non-facetious meaning was probably to place or settle a bet on a race, thus dogs or horses.”

During Prohibition in the United States the expression took on a different meaning when going “to see a man about a dog” often meant to go meet one’s bootlegger.

The earliest confirmed publication is the 1866 Dion Boucicault play Flying Scud, in which a character knowingly breezes past a difficult situation saying, “Excuse me Mr. Quail, I can’t stop; I’ve got to see a man about a dog.” During a 1939 revival on the NBC Radio program America’s Lost Plays, TIME magazine observed that the phrase is the play’s “claim to fame”.

What’s most interesting is how we often take our language usage for granted; I mean we know when and how to use these expressions but we might not know the origins of these expressions.

So now, the next time you hear someone say they are going to see a man about a horse, you’ll know a little bit of how this expression originated.

1 Comment

  1. Still did not find out WHEREthe saying came from

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