If I May Use My Hobby Horse for a Moment

hobbyhorseThis is an odd one.  As frequent readers know, I like to complain about the mis-use of cliches and idioms.  I thought I’d heard one this morning, by no less august of a wordsmith as Stephen King, who, during an interview about his new book said something to the effect of “not wanting to get up on my hobby horse” in his books.

“Aha!” I shouted, “Stephen King mis-used a cliche!  You don’t ‘get up on’ hobby horses.”

But then I started thinking.  Do you get onto hobby horses?  Exactly what the hell is a hobby horse (in a non-metaphorical sense)?  So I did a little research, and it turns out hobby horses are all sorts of things.  Originally, the phrase referred to an actual, concrete breed of horse.  Clearly, one could get on a horse like that (what else would you do with it?), but just as clearly that isn’t what people are thinking of when they talk about a hobby horse as a preoccupation.

The interesting thing is that despite the phrase “hobby horse” coming to mean various things you could hop aboard (velocipedes, merry-go-round horses, and, um, I suppose a “loose woman or strumpet”), and various things you couldn’t (dances, costumes, those little jobbers with a horse-head on the end of a stick) it seems a bit tricky to discern exactly which one of those secondary meanings led to what we now call a hobby.  That stick-horse thing sort of works, as one could see a child becoming preoccupied with it, but you don’t really “get up on” those, you only pretend to.

Now, to my view, Stephen basically conflated “hobby horse” and “high horse” – clearly, he was talking about not wanting to get all sneery and high-horsey in forcing his views through his characters.  But it sort of works to conflate the two meanings, doesn’t it?  I mean, if you have a tendency to scold people and overwhelm them about some particular point, then I suppose your hobby horse is sort of a high horse at the same time.

So I suppose we can give King a pass, since the main point of a cliche is to be useful, and his use of this one is.

~ by smwilliams on September 24, 2013.