Fraser’s Phrases: Horses for Courses

Don’t you just love banal language? I do. It’s the true oil of social intercourse, protecting feelings from being cut to ribbons by the sharp edges around every nugget of factual information that is offered in a conversation. Without such trivialities as “oh really?” or “so what your saying is…” we would find ourselves in a constant state of open aggression, or worse, never speaking at all, for fear of spending our every waking moment finely honing our statements, to ensure maximum comprehension and minimum cross-examination.

It would, in short, be like attempting small-talk with C-3P0, Sheldon Cooper and a grumpy web pedant.

So, allow me to furnish your banality banks with a choice Britishism, which is to be used whenever a situation arises which has no definitive answer.

Horses for courses is a close cousin in meaning to expressions like swings and roundabouts or each to their own. It’s a statement designed to shruggingly suggest that, in the case where personal taste within a group has been bitterly divided, there can be no firm settlement beyond agreeing to disagree.

If you’re trying to decide which is better, for example, The Office (UK version) or The Office (US version), and some of your group is patriotically British and some American (and Steve Carell fans to boot), there’s little chance the argument will end in a firm resolution. And if that is the case, the right thing to do is just shrug and say “ah well, horses for courses” and then fetch some more beer.

The phrase comes, of course, from horse racing. Some horses are good at boggy ground, some prefer the going to be firm underfoot. Put the right horse on the right track, and they will prevail. This neat rhyme proved to be so popular around racetracks that it took on a life of its own, with the first recorded use being in 1898, and even by then it was fairly well established.

And I tell you this, if it was more widely used on the internet, the comments on YouTube videos and blog posts would be FAR more civil than they are currently.

Which British phrase or expression gives you the willies? Tell us here:

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser is a British writer, broadcaster and the the author of the book Stuff Brits Like. He is Anglophenia's resident Brit blogger, having written BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog, the Top of the Pops website, and for NME, the Guardian and elsewhere. Favorite topics include slang, Doctor Who and cramming as much music into Anglophenia as he can manage. He invites you to join him on Twitter: @csi_popmusic
View all posts by Fraser McAlpine.