Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Glad You Asked: How did the phrase “charley horse” become associated with leg cramps?

Glad You Asked: How did the phrase “charley horse” become associated with leg cramps?

  • Updated
  • 0

We don't exactly know. Some sources say origin unknown, others cite the history of baseball or health of horses, and date the term to the 1880s.

The American Heritage Dictionary lists "origin unknown" at the end of its definition for a charley horse. The definition, by the way, reads, "a muscle cramp."

The Random House Webster's Dictionary found in our sports department also lists no origin, and its definition is similar to that found in the American Heritage Dictionary.

The 2,662-page unabridged edition of Webster's Third New International Dictionary speculates on a meaning, saying Charley is a common name for "old lame horses kept for family use."

And,, at the end of its charley horse definition, says the term is originally baseball slang, of unknown origin.

A posting at, a Web site devoted to the history of words and phrases, offers the following:

"In the 1890s, an old horse named Charley was used in the old Chicago White Sox ballpark to pull a roller across the infield. He was old and his muscles would get so stiff he could hardly walk. Players and spectators who caught a cramp thought of the old horse and started calling the condition a charley horse."

Other baseball explanations exist, referring to Charlie "Duke" Esper, a southpaw who walked like a lame horse. The other talks of a Sioux City, Iowa, groundskeeper named Charley who owned a lame horse.

And in an unlikely marriage of the two, the term might refer to the name of either a horse or an afflicted ball player who limped like one of the elderly draft horses formerly employed to drag the infield.

Did Adolf Hitler really invent the Volkswagen?

According to various online sources, Hitler didn't invent the Volkswagen, but certainly provided the "oomph" the project needed to move forward.

Cars cost more than most people made in the 1930s. Hitler assumed the position of chancellor of Germany in 1933 and promoted the notion of an affordable car.

Remember that before plunging the world into war and committing genocide on an unprecedented scale, people knew Hitler as a politician and not a dictator. The "people's car," which is what Volkswagen means in German, was a campaign promise from Hitler to the German people.

To that end, Hitler and automobile designer Ferdinand Porsche met in 1933 and Hitler decided the criteria for his dream car. Hitler required the VW to carry two adults and three children, reach 60 miles per hour, get at least 33 miles per gallon of gas and cost less than 1,000 reischmarks.

Porsche designed what came to later be known as the VW Beetle, a strange feat for a man who even later gave life to some of the most beautiful cars on wheels under the automaker that carries the Porsche name.

In 1938, Hitler ordered the KdF Wagen factory built to produce cars. Hitler invaded Poland and Czechoslovakia before the factory's completion, though, and the facility eventually produced military vehicles. Hitler's dream car fell by the side of the road.

After the war, the KdF Wagen factory ended up in the British section of occupied Germany. The Brits reopened the factory, named it "Volkswagen" and eventually turned the operation over to the German government.

VW introduced new models all over Europe after 1948 and built 1 million cars by 1955. And in 1972, the VW Beetle overtook Ford's Model T as the most popular car ever produced.

The book "Small Wonder: The Amazing Story of the Volkswagen Beetle," by Walter Henry Nelson is a terrific read if you're interested in the history of the VW Beetle. Look for it on or Barnes and Noble's Web site,

Don't type "Small Wonder" in Google, because all you'll get in return are pages about that weird TV show from the 1980s starring some little girl who acted like a robot.

What is Glad You Asked?

Glad You Asked finds answers to the questions that keep you up at night. Call (262) 631-1758 or send your questions to


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

A police officer hired by the City of Burlington has resigned from his $55,000-a-year position just five days after taking the oath of office.

And no one seems to know why.

But it could be an example of what one official calls "pick-pocketing," which occurs when a police department hires away another department's newest officers as soon as they are trained and ready to hit the streets.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alert

Breaking News