What A WEIRD Thing To Say!
When I was in my early 20’s — which seems like just a few years ago — but is closer to a century, I was working on a long term contract with a writing partner. Every now and again he’d get up and quickly exit the office saying …
Gotta see a man about a horse.
I had NO idea what he was talking about, but he’d usually return within 15 minutes and get back to work.
It took me awhile to figure out he was going to the restroom.
The other day I heard that old phrase once again for the first time in about ten years. Out of curiosity I did a bit of research. My biggest question being, how on earth did “I’ve got to go to the bathroom” turn into “Gotta see a man about a horse.”
Also according to Wikipedia …
“The earliest confirmed publication is the 1866 Dion Boucicault play Flying Scud in which a character knowingly breezes past a difficult situation saying, “Excuse me Mr. Quail, I can’t stop; I’ve got to see a man about a dog.”
“In a listing for a 1939 revival on the NBC Radio program America’s Lost Plays, Time magazine observed that the phrase is the play’s “claim to fame”.
Variations of this “exiting in a hurry” phrase include:
“I’ve got to see a man about a dog.”
“I’ve got to see a man about a horse.”
“I’ve got to see a dog about a man.”
and the shortened version “I’ve got to see a man.”
The interesting thing about words and phrases is how much and how often they change.
Apparently during the US Prohibition Era, the phrase was used when someone left to buy or consume alcohol.
World Wide Words has an additional take.
This has been a useful (and usefully vague) excuse for absenting oneself from company for about 150 years, though the real reason for slipping away has not always been the same. […] From other references at the time [around 1866] there were three possibilities: 1) [the speaker] needed to visit the loo […] 2) he was in urgent need of a restorative drink, presumed alcoholic; or 3) he had a similarly urgent need to visit his mistress.
The interesting thing to note is that the phrase was used to refer to something that was, in the day, “unmentionable. One simply did NOT talk about bathrooms, or mistresses or drinking, when drinking was illegal.
Now that anyone say anything without even an eyebrow being raised, the phrase is simply dying away.
Too bad, because I much prefer it over …
Gotta go pee.