Dating of "a horse apiece"

Hugo hugovk at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 31 13:03:54 UTC 2014

A philhippic phrase appropriate for this new Chinese year, local to
parts of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, meaning "it doesn't
matter", "it's all the same", "six of one, half of dozen of t'other".

It's not in the OED. I'm not sure what DARE has now, but in 2000 it had 1980.

The phrase dates at least from the late 19th century, as found in the
St. Paul (Minnesota) Daily Globe (March 27, 1893):

"What did Emperor William say to you when you approached him, Kelly?"
asked McKenna.

"He didn't say a word until I approached him," answered Kelly. "Then
he told me to keep quiet because the president of France was listening
to our conversation. I didn't care a d--m for the president of France,
so I said to William: 'He can't hurt me. Let him listen. It's a horse
apiece, for I'm the King of China.' When I saw the Prince of Wales I
asked him for a chew of tobacco, and kicked because it wasn't the
brand I was used to chewing. He tried to get back at me by saying no
man of my nationality and name could talk back to a peer of the realm.
I said to him: 'Come off de perch, you want do see?'

For some background, the article says 'Workhouse' Kelly was a nearly
60-year-old Irishman who had lived in St. Paul for the previous 20
years, spending 90 days to six months of each year in the workhouse.
He had been a sailor in the US navy in the 1850s and was "full of

The other two uses I found in Chronicling America are both from the
Rock Island (Illinois) Argus. First from May 31, 1899 describing two
baseball teams as appearing equal before a match:

It's a horse apiece. The shake-off occurs today.

Second from April 18, 1904, also describing two baseball teams:

It's a horse apiece now with the Rock Island and Davenport on the
ante-season baseball games. Rock Island won yesterday afternoon's
exhibition game at Twelfth street park 4 to 3, the same score by which
Davenport defeated the local aggregation on the grounds across the
river a week previous.


The American Dialect Society -

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