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Book Review

Off to a Flying Start: Horsing Around the Language
by Bill Tivenan and Cassandra Cook
Aardvark Global Publishing, May 2009, 96 pages paperback
Official website

Horse racing has been a part of English and American culture for over 200 years. Before most of today's modern organized sports were created, people raced their horses for money. It follows then, that racing's influence would spread beyond the world of sports, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in our language. The Sport of Kings has given us many phrases that we use today, and oftentimes they crop up when referring to aspects of life totally unrelated to sports, such as in the worlds of business or politics. In their new book, Off to a Flying Start: Horsing Around The Language, Bill Tivenan and Cassandra Cook have gathered over 60 common phrases used in the English language and show how they were imported from Thoroughbred racing. Their inspiration for the book came from the 2008 US Presidential campaign where they observed so many racing phrases and clichés being used.

Tivenan has followed the sport of racing for two decades, working in the industry as a quality assurance analyst with the Daily Racing Form and a writer and producer in film, radio, and new media. Cook, a life-long fan of racing after following Secretariat's Triple Crown run on the radio, is a freelance project manager for print and web publishing.

Some of the phrases, such as "beating a dead horse" and "down to the wire" are easily connected to racing, but others, including "get your goat" and "cheapskate" are not so obvious. For each phrase, a brief explanation of how the phrase came to be is included along with how it is used in modern context. The Oxford English Dictionary was used to verify the meanings. Many of these are accompanied by a cartoon by Budapest-based Romanian illustrator Ana Mirela Tache to illustrate the meaning better. From the lighthearted and amusing to the evocative and descriptive, horse enthusiasts and lovers of language alike will be delighted by the colorful phrases explained and illustrated in this work. A list of all the terms covered in the book can be viewed here.

This was an enjoyable read for this racing fan and reviewer and is recommended to those with an interest in language and horse racing. It would also make a useful educational tool for gently introducing younger people to the sport of horse racing while they learn about the English language.

Off to a Flying Start has a list price of $12.95 and is available from, direct from the authors, and selected racetrack gift shops.

Rating:     4/5

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