Horse Around

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Meaning of Idiom 'Horse (horsing) Around'

The idiom horse around or horsing around is probably related to 'horseplay' which has long been a term meaning rough, noisy and rowdy play.

To horse around, however, doesn't necessarily mean to engage in rough play. It usually refers to playing or being silly when you are supposed to be acting seriously or working; engaging in frivolous activity. 1,2,3

Examples Of Use

"Stop horsing around and get to class," the principal said to the students who were running in the hall.

"Tommy was too busy horsing around to do his chores."

Origin

Although the word 'horse' has long referred to anything big, strong and coarse (consider horseradish), the origin here is more direct, as it relates to how young horses play together by running back and forth and pretending to fight. Horseplay had been used since the late 1500's but the related idiom 'to horse around' has only been used since the first half of the 1900's.

Sources
1. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
3. Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill's American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.

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