"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone. "When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Home James and don't spare the horses.

This saying dates from 1870 or earlier but it was a song by that title in 1934 that gave the phrase a popular boost. One of the best known versions was sung by Elsie Carlisle with Ambrose's Orchestra c. 1934.

One story says the phrase was uttered by Queen Victoria, who had a driver named James Darling. She didn't want to call him "Darling," as custom would dictate, so she called him by his first name instead. I have no idea if this story is true, but I like it.

When I was young I was never sure whether the phrase was "Home James and don't spare the horses" or "Home James and don't spur the horses" - which, of course, would have had the opposite meaning.


  1. I can see Queen Victoria sitting primly in her open carriage, shivering in the chill Scottish air, thinking wistfully of a blazing fire and a hot cup of tea back at Balmoral, but unwilling to call her coachman 'Darling,' even if that was his name....yes, I definitely think your explanation is the correct one. :0)
    The Canadian Chickadee

  2. I always had that problem of understanding too. It comes from being Northerners. If we'd been from The South (UK I should add))(heaven forbid) then that problem would never have arisen.

    Note for non-UK readers: this is an issue of pronunciation.

  3. Don't spare the horses simply means make the horses get me home quickly,don't consider the horses feelings.James would be the carriage driver. What's the puzzle in that? I don't see what pronunciation has to do with it??

    1. Don't spur the horses would mean don't use your spurs on the horses - i.e. don't hurry them and therefore would have the opposite meaning to don't spare the horses. It's not the pronunciation that counts but the spelling!

    2. But a Northerner pronounces 'spare' as 'spur'.

    3. Sorry Geeb, I wasn't knocking your comment - which I agree is perfectly valid. I was trying to help Jean understand why it was potentially confusing. I think i'll give up!