Charley Horse

Meanings of “Charley Horse”

The phrase “charley horse” or Charlie horse means cramps in the legs or some type of stiffness in the leg. It’s a baseball player’s jargon for various muscle injuries, often caused in the leg.

Origin of “Charley Horse”

The phrase “charley horse” is stated to be of American origin. The term has started from the baseball game and first appeared in a newspaper in The Fort Wayne Gazette in its publication of July 1887. There it goes thus; “Whatever ails a player this year they call it ‘Charley horse’. ‘Tom and Jerry horse’ would fit many cases.”

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Charley Horse by Kim Barney

I know a horse called Charley;
he visits me now and then,
but the visits are not pleasant;
he always brings me pain.
Quite often he shows up
in my gastrocnemius;
I moan and groan and sometimes scream;
the hurt is just tremendous.
My wife wakes up and always knows
the reason for my pain;
she doesn’t have to ask, because
Old Charley’s back again.
Sometimes in my bicep,
rarely in my tricep,
quite often in my trapezius,
but let me tell you what:
when he’s in my gluteus maximus
he’s a real pain in the butt!

Here charley horse as a metaphor which causes pain to the poet whenever it visits him. The issue cause him pains at several places in the body. It takes his wife a lot of efforts to eliminate this charley horse, to whom, the poet calls an Old Charley. The pain’s discomfort makes him realize that it is highly painful. The phrase has been used as a metaphor.

Example #2

Charley Horse by Kevin Patrick

Its half past 12: 00 in the crow’s plumage dawn
and I’ve been sitting here since before 9: 00,
with legs crossed eyed in snaked figure eights
course I’m paying for it now. My feet implode
with a migraine of a guillotine, and I shake
it off, but they feel like the star of a wake;
Charley Horse is its name like a gift of mafia shoes.
and my cat sits on the ledge: her glare says it all.

Kevin Patrick summed up his painful condition in the above lines, explaining the cause in the second in the garb of a linguist to show that this painful condition is, though, called charley horse, has nothing to do with both these words. Instead, it is a condition of pinched nerves that causes him discomfort. However, the interesting thing happens in the last couplet with he states that, though, it will end soon but will last until your last breath. The use of paradox, in the end, makes the meanings of the phrase clear in a humorous way.


From Recollections and Experiences of a Horse, Cattle, and Farm Machinery Dealer, Auctioneer, Car Salesman and Farmer by W. A. Irwin

Brenda and I took a trip to a Prince Edward Island; occasion was that one of our granddaughters was getting married so we ended up going down to the Island and having a great time. One day, when we were there Brenda had a muscle spasm in her leg and started hopping around and said that she had a Charlie horse in her legs. It went away after a few minutes and Robert, our son in law, told us this story about another Charlie horse.

This passage is from the book of recollections of W. A. Irwin. He states that he came to know about this phrase and its real meanings when he was on the island with his son-in-law to enjoy. He comes to know that his wife had had a Charlie horse which caused her great discomfort while his son-in-law, Robert, explained this phrase in detail.

Example #4

Speaking of Animals: A Dictionary of Animal Metaphors by Robert Allen Palmatier

Charley Horse: A cramp in the thigh. WNNCD: 1888. Source: HORSAE. Charley horse originated among the Chicago White Stockings baseball players in the late 1880s who likened their cramped thighs to the legs of the broken-down horse, named Charley, that pulled the roller to pack down the infield of their ballpark. (The manager at the time was Charlie Chimskey, but his first name has never been linked to the name of the affliction.) Now, anyone, including horses, can get a charley horse, usu. As a result of starting from overwork.

This detailed explanation by Allen Palmatier has shed further light on the meanings of this phrase. It not only gives its origin but also its logical use in the baseball game. The end of the excerpt states that this physical discomfort ensues from overwork and muscle stretching or expanding. In other words, it has been used in the literal sense in this passage.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “Philip is an ace player and team captain. He got hurt and is currently suffering from a Charley Horse.”

Example #2: “Kiara ran so fast that her muscles began to ache and she thought she had Charley Horse.”

Example #3: “The entire team recovered from the virus. During the practice, they were tired and felt as if they were suffering from the same ailment like the Charley Horse. The coach agreed to give them a break.”

Example #4: “Niska was crying in pain after her gym trainer put her in a new course. She got the Charley Horse and it was painful.”

Example#5: “I do not think that Ilsa is suffering from Charlie horse. She just wanted to skip the running practice.”