The renowned expression I can eat a horse an interpretation that girlfriend are very hungry appears to be from the at an early stage 19 th century follow to Google Books. One early consumption example I can find is indigenous 1824:

From: The miscellaneous works of Tobias Smollett through Tobias George Smollett: (1824)

"for ns be for this reason hoongry, I can eat a steed behind the saddle."

The expression is plainly a hyperbole but it is not clear why "a horse" has come to be the pet associated v being exceptionally hungry, quite than a cow because that instance.


What"s the origin of the above saying?

Was it originally a BrE or an AmE expression?

etymology popular-refrains phrase-origin
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The earliest circumstances of this expression the I have been maybe to discover is from john Ray, A arsenal of Proverbs (1678), which has this entrance (without more comment):

He is so hungry, he might eat a equine behind the saddle.

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Unfortunately, neither beam nor any other writer who cites or provides the expression offers any type of explanation of why it concentrates on steeds rather than some various other animal.

Tobias Smollett, The Life and Adventures of sir Launcelot Greaves (1760) is one of the earliest recorded instances the the expression used in a narrative—in a scene in which sir Launcelot has ceded a squire indigenous the curative regimen the an incompetent doctor, nurse, and apothecary, and has inquiry the patient exactly how he currently feels:

"I need to feel heart-whole if therefore be together yow would throw the noorse a"ter the bottle , and the "pothecary a"ter the noorse; and also oorder me a lb of chops for my dinner; for I punishment so hoongry, I might eat a horse behind the saddle."

And likewise from Walter Scott, Guy Mannering; or, The Gipsey"s Prophecy (1815):

Gipsey Girl. I"m sure, gentlemen, you"ll forgive us; we are not accustom"d to watch the choose of you; however if there is any type of thing that you would take—

Dinmont. can there it is in anything we won"t take, mine dear? for I have actually not take away meat or drink this 4 or five hours, and the cold blast ~ above the hills has provided me such an appetite, that, as the Yorkshire-man says, "I cou"d eat a horse behind the saddle."

But it appears to me that part readers may be misreading the sense of "a steed behind the saddle." The ide I have actually read somewhere else on this page is the "behind the saddle" means "posterior come the saddle," i beg your pardon is come so say "toward or in ~ the horse"s buttocks." however I think it is just as likely to average "through the saddle."

Horsemeat has, deservedly or not, a reputation for being stringy and also tough. In countries where steeds are not a meat resource of choice, the bad reputation probably rests of numerous factors: horsemeat has a more powerful flavor than beef (for example), that is (or was) typically used in such countries as meat because that dogs, and because steeds are typically bred together riding or pulling animals and not as sources of meat, their meat tends to be much leaner and also less tender than cattle bred and also fattened up for slaughter.

In a culture where equines were much from the desired meat source, people may have consumed them just in straitened circumstances, as soon as no other source of meat to be available, such together in major dearths, through consequent privation for the equine prior come its gift eaten, too—and again this would tend to reinforce the perception the their meat was naturally tough and also stringy.

In any case, the fancied (and under some circumstances real) toughness that horsemeat might be the suggest of the expression. A person who is ravenously hungry may express this fact by asserting not just that the (or she) is hungry enough to eat a horse, but that that (or she) is willing to go through the saddle to obtain to it. dislike of the idea of eating horsemeat seems to have been quite strong in past centuries. For example, in home George, Memoirs of an Aristocrat and also Reminiscences the the Emperor Napoleon (1837), we have this remembrance the the eating of a dog aboard an marine ship in 1777:

When us were in new Zealand, Neddy Rhio, among my messmates had obtained hold the a new Zealand dog, as savage a evil one as the savages from who he acquired it, and this very same dog that intended to carry home to present to the Marchioness the Townsend, his patroness. Yet one day, while Neddy was on coast on duty, a court-martial was held on the dog, and also it to be agreed nem. Con. that, as the dog to be of cannibal origin, and also was completely a cannibal itself, having actually bit every one of use, and shewn every inclination to eat united state alive if that could, that he need to be doomed to death, and also eat in his turn, we being quick of fresh provisions in ~ the time. The sentence was immediately executed, the dog cooked, dressed, and also eat, because that we could have eat a horse behind the saddle, we were every so confoundedly hungry; ...

It appears odd to justify eat a dog by saying, in effect, "of course us ate it; us were therefore hungry the we"d have been ready to eat a horse." another instance the anti-horsemeat emotion occurs in "Paris Sport and also Paris Life," in Baily"s magazine of Sports and Pastimes (March 1865):

We have all heard frequently enough, specifically on seasons favor the current one (confound it!), of steeds "eating your heads of." well these experimentalists want to save them the trouble, and also propose eating not only the heads, however the legs and also body also.

This Hippic Society, which need to be referred to as "The Eat-a-horse behind the Saddle agency (Limited)," actually had a dinner critical week at the grand Hôtel. Nothing but horse was served! The menu, as much as I can remember was as follows:—

Potage a la Reine. Cotelettes de Hock. Saucce aux Eperons. Foot of Screws offered in their boots, Potted Favourite—a "good thing" boiled over (This was not lot relished.) and also lastly, a saddle of steed garnished with girths.

The agency agreed that, other than in several of the low-priced Paris restaurants, they had actually never tasted such meat, and they walk not different till a late hour.

Th "Charivari" <Puck> had actually a splendid photo of a pair that carriage-horses shying in ~ the entrance to this horse-eating hotel, and a dog, evidently thinking he to be being defrauded the his rights, barking at one of the guests returning from his equine banquet.

I might be old fashioned, yet I confess I would certainly rather have a saddle that five-year old Welsh mutton—not too much done—and a couple of French beans, 보다 a haunch of one of two people of Mr. Henry Chaplin"s recent purchases.

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This resource expressly treats horsemeat as correctly being a meat fed come dogs, which again emphasizes its lack of appeal to the ( writer.