Two meanings lost in time this week
#1 – Hands Down (as in ‘I won hands down.’)
There is a good chance that this saying traveled to India with the British Raj and their love of horse racing. Or maybe India had horse races before the British Devils colonised their country to plunder the wealth and strut about in a superior way.
Why Hands Down?
Well – when a jockey is racing, the adopted posture is the one best suited for balancing weight. Body raised from the saddle by feet firmly planted in the stirrups allowing the bent knees to act like shock absorbers. The body crouched so the rider’s head is quite close to the horse’s ears, perhaps to urge him on with whispered commands. Hold that dynamic image and imagine the frenzy of hoof pounding across the turf at speed, jockey’s elbows in.
When the leader realizes he’s way ahead of the pack and about to win, he sometimes settled back into the saddle to sit up straight, released the reins and let his hands hang down in a gesture of devil-may-care bravado.
Winning hands down.
#2 – Hobson’s Choice
It’s unlikely that anyone outside of the British Isles will know about this old saying from the days before trains but if ever you come to UK you will know what the locals are talking about whenever they mention it.
Horse drawn coaches were the way to get around the cities and for the long haul to other cities unless you were able to saddle up your own horse. Coaches gave protection from the weather as an obvious advantage but they were slow and uncomfortable and the state of the roads and the lack of heat didn’t enhance the travel experience.
For those in more of a hurry there were relay stations offering a change of horse for the rider intent on speed. I would guess that a horse at full gallop could last for about 25 miles before needing a rest so an enterprising gentleman call Hobson set up these relays all over UK.
No doubt there were leisure facilities and accommodation at each one so the rider could stretch his legs and generally enjoy himself with whatever was on offer unless he was passing through and wanted just a change of horse.
This form of travel was mainly used by men so there would have been a tavern and other temptations (naughty ones probably) to break the journey and empty their pockets.
The rider may have enjoyed the speed and energy of a two year old stallion for the first part of his journey but when he was ready to travel on, the horse offered could have been a five year old nag.
Rules were strict: The horse at the gate was the horse you got. No picking and choosing so Hobson’s choice became an expression for no choice at all.