Shank's mare

Damien Hall halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Thu Jan 17 16:21:05 UTC 2008

When I first saw this phrase in some American source (not that long ago), I
thought it was the result of some ungrammatical person misplacing an
apostrophe, since the only version of the phrase that I had ever heard up to
then was "Shanks' pony", pronounced /SaeNksIz/ (ie a pony belonging to someone
called Shanks).  I find from

that the version with the pony is commoner only in the UK and Australia, and
that there is some debate about whether the first word is "shank's", "Shank's"
or "Shanks'".  All the versions are discussed in the article above, but they
seem to favour "shank's" as the original, being a reference to the shank, now
more commonly known as the shin-bone or tibia.  The identity of the animal -
mare, pony or nag, as in the earliest citation they give - is also variable.
There's also a Wikipedia article, which I haven't looked at.

FWIW, ghits for the two 'main' versions - that is, the one with which I was
familiar and the one most widespread in the US - are about equal:

shank's mare    11,800
shanks' pony    11,600
shank's pony     5,990
shanks' mare     5,490
shank's nag        101
shanks' nag         50

but all these numbers seem pretty low to me.

Damien Hall
University of Pennsylvania

The American Dialect Society -

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