What does the term “Charley horse” mean and Where does the phrase come from?

A paragrapher in Ladies’ Home Journal (Vol. LXX, No. 12) asserted without hesitation that the term “Charley horse” for muscular stiffness came about thus: In the 1890’s, a horse (named Charley) which drew a roller in the White Sox ball park in Chicago had a peculiar limp.

Hence, the fans applied the name “Charley-horse” to any player afflicted with a muscular stiffness or lameness.

I can’t deny that there may have been such a horse; however, if so, he must have performed his duties and to have had his name applied to such an injury some time before the 1890’s.

The term was used by a Cincinnati paper early in 1889, telling why a ballplayer had withdrawn from the game in 1888, and inasmuch as the nature of the injury was not described, it is obvious that “Charley-horse” was well understood by baseball fans, at least, even outside of Chicago, before this latter date.

Regrettably, we must continue to say “Origin unknown,” despite much and varied speculation.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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