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Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other

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Hey, Camp Folks!

We’re studying all those turns of phrase and old sayings that are woven so deeply into our language that we may not even realize that we’re using one when we do. These sort of sayings are more specifically referred to as idioms or adages. Today’s featured saying is ‘A Horse Apiece’. What are the horses and the pieces being referenced here?

We’re based in northwestern Wisconsin here at Everything Summer Camp and, apparently, so is this adage. For whatever reason, its usage has remained primarily contained to the state of Wisconsin along with parts the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We’ll look into that more in just a little bit, but first—

What does this adage mean? It’s really just a way of saying that there’s essentially no difference between a couple of options. If someone asked which of 2 routes to the airport was quicker and both routes were a five-minute drive, you could reply, ‘It’s a horse apiece’. A synonymous phrase is ‘Six of one and a half dozen of the other’ (like the title of this post). Same difference.

 Let’s start digging for the origin of today’s adage:

The likeliest origin of this phrase comes from old dice games (back sometime in the 1800s). While there is an old dice game called ‘Horse’, the phrase ‘A Horse Apiece’ was used in a wide variety of games. It was used to refer to a situation when two players are throwing for the best two out of three. When the first two throws result in a tie, then it was said that you were to have a horse apiece. A predecessor to this phrase is an even more basic version of it: ‘a horse and a horse’.

These dice games and the phrases that come along with them used to be popular much more widespread than they are today. So why is this phrase so strongly associated with Wisconsinites in the current day? Oddly enough, the phrase seems to have simply died off in most other places and stuck in this particular part of country.

I would love to hear more people start using this phrase outside of Wisconsin—it’s a great way to quickly relay that there’s no difference between two possibilities. As always, thanks for reading, Camp Fans!


- John

Posted in Adage Origin

1 comment

  • Growing up in Minnesota, I always heard my mom say “It’s horse apiece” about two alternatives. I thought, “Great! I’ll take either horse!” Never got one, though…

    Mrs. Tucker on

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