Date: Wed, 14 Jan 1998 03:32:06 EST


Subject: Charley Horse

"Charley horse" is an old war-horse for folk etymology.

RHHDAS cites David Shulman's 1949 AMERICAN SPEECH article on "Charley

horse" for the first citation (1888).

Paul Dickson's BASEBALL DICTIONARY quotes Gerald Cohen's 19 June 1887

citation from the NEW YORK WORLD as the earliest "Charley horse."

No more. I went to Cooperstown. I vas dere, Sholley!

Before my trip, I had at least this:

11 May 1887, SPORTING LIFE, pg. 4, col. 5.

"Charlie horse" seems to be the complaint that has laid up a good many

ball players this spring.

16 June 1887, NEW ORLEANS DAILY PICAYUNE, pg. 3, col. 3.

"Charley horse."

18 July 1887, ST. LOUIS GLOBE-DEMOCRAT, pg. 8, col. 5.

WHENEVER anything ails a ball player this year they call it "Charley-

horse." "Tom-and-Jerry-horse" would fit many cases.

21 August 1887, ST. LOUIS GLOBE-DEMOCRAT, pg. 9, col. 5.

CORKHILL will have to lay off. A "charlie-horse" has him in its fierce


28 Spetmeber 1888, CINCINNATI TIMES-STAR, pg. 6, col. 1.



(...) He ran down from second to third, and, just as he reached Gus.

Albert's territory, he felt that awful sensation of contracting muscles in his

leg that ball players call "a Charley Horse."

12 June 1889, SPORTING LIFE, pg. 4, col. 5.

BROOKLYN'S Tom Burns is crippled with "Charley-horse."

13 June 1891, NEW YORK SPORTING TIMES, pg. 5, col. 2.


Chris Von der Ahe's boys are just the stuff,

Sing a ding I ding I day!

The Brown Stocking gang are strong and tough,

Sing a ding I ding I day!

"Dhey are joust der fellers" cries Chris the boss,

"You never hear dhem cry 'bout Sholly-hoss;

Der 'Merican pennant dhey vill nail to der cross,"

Sing a ding I ding I day!

--C. J. FOLEY.

15 August 1891, NEW YORK SPORTING TIMES, pg. 6, col. 3.

To this inquiry the Superintendent of the Norristown (Pa.) Insane Asylum

answers: "My patients have Charlie Horse in the brain, and 83 per cent. of

them are addicted to writing verses."

8 September 1907, WASHINGTON POST, Misc. Section, pg. 3, cols. 2-3.

"His partner was Charley Radbourne, the great pitcher, who was also

famous as a heavy hitter. Radbourne was a great favorite with players and

cranks, and everybody called him 'Old Hoss,' as a sort of affectionate


"Once, somewhere back in the eighties, the Bostons were playing a game

with the Providence nine, and Charley was at the bat. The Providence pitcher

handed him a low one, and he landed on it with the tip of his heavy bat,

lifting it so far into the air that it disappeared from view entirely.

"Charley started on a race around the bases, and by the time he got

halfway between second and third some one shouted that the ball had gone over

the fence. Then he slowed down and loped toward third, while the Providence

crowd maintained that uncanny silence which home crowds always put on when the

home team gets a jolt.

"Just as Charley passed third base something seemed to crack in his leg,

and he came down to the home plate limping, and evidently in pain. Nova, who

had sprung from the players' bench in excitement, rushed up to him.

"'What's a mattah wit you, Charley Hoss?' he shouted, combining Charley's

given name and nickname.

"'My leg is tied up in knots,' said Charley.

"And from that day to this lameness in baseball players has been called

'Charley Hoss,' or 'Charles Horse.'"

See also COMMENTS ON ETYMOLOGY, May 1993 and February 1994.

This doesn't explain the reasoning behind the term, but our earliest

citation is now this, from SPORTING LIFE, 15 September 1886, pg. 5, col. 2:

JOE QUINN is troubled with "Charley-horse."

This is from SPORTING LIFE, 29 September 1886, pg. 4, col. 6:

Joe Quinn will do the honors at second until Sam Crane's recovery, the

latter having wrenched his hip in running through the mud to first in the

second Kansas City game.


Joe Quinn took Sam Crane's place at second when the former was disabled

in last Tuesday's game, and as it was Joe's first game for a long while, he

received quite an ovation.

The Library of Congress does not have the KANSAS CITY STAR for 1886. I

had looked through the STAR on a microfilm loan and when I went to K. C. about

three years ago. I didn't notice "Charley horse," but a specific date will

help. I'll recheck the 1886 issues for THE SPORTING NEWS and THE CLIPPER.

I'd be very surprised if "Charley horse" is much older than 1886.