Posted by: Jack Henry | June 22, 2016

Editor’s Corner: Charley Horse

Dear readers,

The other day I received an email asking me about the term “charley horse” and how it came to mean “muscle cramp.” My standard resources could not pin down the exact origin of the term, but I thought these explanations might be interesting, nonetheless.

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

· charley horse (n.) 1887, sporting slang, origin obscure, probably from somebody’s long-forgotten lame racehorse. Charley horse seems to have been a name for a horse or a type of horse (perhaps especially a lame one) around that time.

From the Free Dictionary:

· charley horse Cramp or stiffness in a muscle, most often in the thigh, as in After working in the garden I frequently get a bad charley horse. First used in the 1880s among baseball players, the term was soon extended to more general use. Its true origin is disputed. Among the more likely theories proposed is that it alludes to the name of either a horse or an afflicted ball player who limped like one of the elderly draft horses formerly employed to drag the infield.

And lastly, from Wikipedia:

· Charley horse is a popular colloquial term in Canada and the United States for painful spasms or cramps in the leg muscles caused by a punch or knee to the thigh, typically lasting anywhere from a few seconds to about a day. It can also refer to a bruise on an arm or leg and a bruising of the quadriceps muscle of the anterior or lateral thigh, or contusion of the femur, that commonly results in a haematoma and sometimes several weeks of pain and disability. In this latter sense, such an injury is known as dead leg. In Australia, it is also known as a corked thigh or corky….

Another term, jolly horse, is used to describe simple painful muscle cramps in the leg or foot, especially those that follow strenuous exercise. [KC – Okay, I had never heard of a jolly horse, so I looked this up and didn’t find anything except for this:
Jolly Ball Horse. I don’t think that’s
what the author of this article meant.]

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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