If its Tuesday, it’s pinochle at my aunt’s.
We were sitting round her kitchen table, a few Tuesdays ago playing the venerable card game when Aunt Ger brought her muscle cramps up. It’s a topic she brings up on occasion, that is to say, regularly.
Sharing a few nagging episodes of my own, I consoled her while dutifully listening to the plaintive descriptions of her woes.
“I get some bad Charley Horses during the night,” I interjected.
At which point, my aunt suggested some of her home remedies, such as rubbing the painful area with pickle juice. I politely listen and the game continues.
But as the next hand was dealt, she suddenly wondered out loud, “Where did ‘Charley Horse’ come from?” And looked at me, the former teacher.
Stumped, I said I’d look it up and get back to her.
I finally did.
Well, we can thank, it seems, an old baseball pitcher for the expression. Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn. There are several other explanations for the origin of ‘Charley Horse’, to be honest about it. But I like this one the best.
The first time a leg cramp was called a ‘Charley Horse’ in print was in 1886, about the same time Radbourn—a butcher by trade—was hurling for various professional teams of that era, including the Boston Beaneaters. He must have been a notorious sufferer of the condition, or perhaps, just complained the most. Nevertheless, the worrisome ailment didn’t stop Radbourn from setting the record for most wins in a single season: an astounding 60!
In any event, slang did its magic and ‘Old Hoss’ became the enduring eponym of a common medical condition.
But that’s not the end of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say. ‘Old Hoss’ is credited with yet another first, although one his descendants may not be as proud of.
He was the first public figure to be photographed giving the finger. If the gesture was directed at Fate for his muscle cramps, I totally understand.