Why is it "charley horse" and not "charlie horse"?
August 26, 2017 12:58 AM   Subscribe

"Charlie" is a much more common shortening of "Charles" than "Charley." But the North American phrase for an involuntary spasm in the calf muscle is always spelt "charley horse." How's come?

My dictionary doesn't explain the phrase's origin. There seems to be a lot of speculation online, but no evidence.
posted by Perodicticus potto to Writing & Language (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
JStor link on the origin. You don't need a JSTor account; all is explained on the free page.
posted by TheRaven at 1:42 AM on August 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

Interesting origin, but the injury described at the link doesn't match what Perodicticus potto or I think of as a charley horse.
posted by mpark at 8:03 AM on August 26, 2017

Not exactly an answer to the question, but Charlie hasn't always been much more common than Charley. Until the mid-20th century, both forms were common, with Charley accounting for about 40% (including John Steinbeck's poodle).

This usage graph for "charley horse" and "charlie horse" has some mysteries in it that I can't explain.
posted by aws17576 at 9:04 AM on August 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

aws17576: The ngram spike in "charlie horse" in the 1910s appears to be due to a single book, Under Sail by Felix Reisenberg, which has a character named "Charlie Horse." Some of the later usages appear to be from reprints or excerpts from that book.

There is, however, an example of the spelling "charlie horse" applied to a type of injury here.
posted by obvious at 11:31 AM on August 26, 2017

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