Last Monday when I stopped by the Southern Standard office in McMinnville, as I was leaving, editor James Clark stopped me.
“I’ve got one for you!” he smiled. “‘I’m going to see a man about a horse,’ have you ever heard that?”
“Sure have,” I said. “I’ll get it in for you right away.”
“It just never made any sense to me,” said James.
“No, it doesn’t,” I came back.
Then I proceeded to tell him the basics of how the saying came to mean what it does today. Also used with dog, this is a euphemistic saying derived from the days when someone was going to settle a bet on a horse or dog race. Though now a bit archaic, through the years it came to be used as a way to conceal what a person was actually leaving to do, such as going to the restroom or to purchase an alcoholic beverage.
The earliest known citation is the 1866 Dion Boucicault’s play “Flying Scud” in which a character dances around a situation by saying: “Excuse me Mr. Quail, I can’t stop. I’ve got to see a man about a dog.”
Incidentally, another friend, Kay Brownyard, asked me some time back if I knew where “I’m going to see the president” came from for when a person goes to the restroom. I told her I had never heard that one, but that it was bound to be an alteration of the one about the horse.
Often euphemisms evolve in such a way as this one has. When I was growing up I heard, “I’m going down to Ms. Joneses” used in the same way.
Stan St. Clair is the author of the best-selling book, “Most Comprehensive Origins of Clichés, Proverbs and Figurative Expres-sions.” If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303, or email him at email@example.com.