Charley Horse Origin: A Brief History of the Word “Charc”
The word “chariot” comes from the Latin carrus meaning wheel or carriage. It was first used in English around 1340 to refer to horses drawn by four horses. By 1450, the term had been extended to include other types of vehicles such as carts and wagons. By 1530, chariots were being referred to as carriages.
In 1660, the word became common enough to refer to any vehicle with wheels. For example, a cart could be described as a chariot if it was pulled by four horses.
By 1770, the word had become so popular that it began referring specifically to horses pulling carriages or other similar vehicles.
In 1801, the word “horse” came into use to refer to all vehicles with wheels. The earliest known citation of the word “carriage” is from 1804. By 1830, the two words were interchangeable. In 1840, the terms wagon and coach were used interchangeably for both types of vehicles.
From there, it wasn’t long before people started using these new terms to mean any type of vehicle with wheels. In 1845, the word “car” came into common use to describe railroad cars. This word was originally used in 1802 to describe self-propelled vehicles such as steamrollers.
In short, the term charley horse is a hold over from an earlier time when words for vehicles with wheels were not as readily available. Today, it can be used to refer to many different types of vehicles.
The word charley was first used in 1819 as a familiar form of the name Charles. It is still one of the most common pet forms of the name today.
In 1883, the word took on a new meaning when criminals started to refer to policemen as charleys. The first known instance of this comes from George Ade’s Fables in Slang. In the story, two policemen are referred to as “the Charleys.”
In the early 1900s, this meaning was further developed when criminals started to describe police activity as “Charley.”
By the early 1900s, criminals were also using the word horse to refer to heroin. The earliest known usage of this comes from H.L. Menken who wrote in 1917 that addicts were stealing everything in sight in order to get money for “horse.”
By the late 1920s, criminals had shortened horse to charlie. The earliest known usage of this came from Edgar Thompson’s novel, Mayhem, which was written in 1928. In the book, a character is described as “broke and without charlie.”
By the 1930s, the words horse and charlie were used interchangeably. In fact, in 1931, a newspaper in Virginia referred to both drugs and horses as charlies.
During the 1930s and 40s, “horse” was also used to refer to any vehicle. For example, Al Capone was once arrested for having a “horse in the bed of his pick-up truck.” In addition, bank robbers often used getaway “horses”
Sources & references used in this article:
Whence’Charley Horse’? by D Shulman – American Speech, 1949 – JSTOR
The Charley Horse of Recreation and Physical Education by LLB Miller – Journal of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, 1965 – Taylor & Francis
Pain in Guillain-Barré syndrome by AH Ropper, BT Shahani – Archives of neurology, 1984 – jamanetwork.com
Mencken as Etymologist: Charley Horse and Lobster Trick by HB Woolf – American Speech, 1973 – JSTOR
Another Charley Horse For Weather Forecasters by L Grenci – Weatherwise, 2004 – Taylor & Francis
What if research really mattered by D Ravitch – Education week, 1998 – warwick.ac.uk
Treating Myositis Ossificans\p= m-\The Charley-Horse of Football by RS Clegg – jamanetwork.com
Football injuries of the Harvard squad for three years under the revised rules by EH Nichols, FL Richardson – The Boston Medical and Surgical …, 1909 – Mass Medical Soc