Etymology
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horse-race (n.)

also horserace, 1580s, from horse (n.) + race (n.1). Related: Horse-racing.

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race-horse (n.)

"horse bred or kept for running in contests," 1620s, from race (n.1) + horse (n.).

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race (v.)

c. 1200, rasen "to rush," from a Scandinavian source akin to the source of race (n.1), reinforced by the noun in English and by Old English cognate ræsan "to rush headlong, hasten, enter rashly." Transitive meaning "run swiftly" is from 1757. Meaning "run against in a competition of speed" is from 1809. Transitive sense of "cause to run" is from 1860. In reference to an engine, etc., "run with uncontrolled speed," from 1862; transitive sense is by 1932. Related: Raced; racing.

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race (n.1)

[act of running] late Old English, also rase, "a narrative, an account;" c. 1300, "an act of swift running, a hurried attack," also "a course of life or conduct, a swift current;" from Old Norse rās "a running, a rush (of water)," cognate with Old English ræs "a running, a rush, a leap, jump; a storming, an attack;" or else a survival of the Old English word with spelling and pronunciation influenced by the Old Norse noun and the verb. The Norse and Old English words are from Proto-Germanic *res- (source also of Middle Dutch rasen "to rave, rage," German rasen, Old English raesettan "to rage" (of fire)), from a variant form of PIE *ers- (1) "be in motion" (see err).

Originally a northern word, it became general in English c. 1550. Formerly used more broadly than now, of any course which has to be run, passed over, or gone through, such as the course of time or events or a life (c. 1300) or the track of a heavenly body across the sky (1580s). To rue (one's) race (15c.) was to repent the course one has taken.

Meaning "contest of speed involving two or more competitors; competitive trial in running, riding, etc." is from 1510s. For the sense of "artificial stream leading water to a mill, etc.," see race (n.3). Meaning "electoral contest for public office" is by 1827.

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race (n.2)

[people of common descent] 1560s, "people descended from a common ancestor, class of persons allied by common ancestry," from French race, earlier razza "race, breed, lineage, family" (16c.), possibly from Italian razza, which is of unknown origin (cognate with Spanish raza, Portuguese raça). Etymologists say it has no connection with Latin radix "root," though they admit this might have influenced the "tribe, nation" sense, and race was a 15c. form of radix in Middle English (via Old French räiz, räis). Klein suggests the words derive from Arabic ra's "head, beginning, origin" (compare Hebrew rosh).

  

Original senses in English included "wines with characteristic flavor" (1520), "group of people with common occupation" (c. 1500), and "generation" (1540s). The meaning developed via the sense of "tribe, nation, or people regarded as of common stock" to "an ethnical stock, one of the great divisions of mankind having in common certain physical peculiarities" by 1774 (though as OED points out, even among anthropologists there never has been an accepted classification of these). In 19c. also "a group regarded as forming a distinctive ethnic stock" (German, Greeks, etc.).

Just being a Negro doesn't qualify you to understand the race situation any more than being sick makes you an expert on medicine. [Dick Gregory, 1964]

In mid-20c. U.S. music catalogues, it means "Negro." Old English þeode meant both "race, folk, nation" and "language;" as a verb, geþeodan meant "to unite, to join." Race-consciousness "social consciousness," whether in reference to the human race or one of the larger ethnic divisions, is attested by 1873; race-relations by 1897. Race theory "assertion that some racial groups are endowed with qualities deemed superior" is by 1894.

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race (n.3)

[strong current of water] c. 1300, more or less a particular sense of race (n.1), which then denoted any forward movement or swift running, from Old Norse ras in its sense of "a rushing of water." Via Norman French the word entered French as ras, which might have given English race its specialized meaning of "channel of a stream" (especially an artificial one, to a mill, etc.), which is recorded in English from 1560s.

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horse (n.)

"solidungulate perissodactyl mammal of the family Equidæ and genus Equus" [Century Dictionary], Old English hors "horse," from Proto-Germanic *harss- (source also of Old Norse hross, Old Frisian, Old Saxon hors, Middle Dutch ors, Dutch ros, Old High German hros, German Roß "horse"), of unknown origin. By some, connected to PIE root *kers- "to run," source of Latin currere "to run." Boutkan prefers the theory that it is a loan-word from an Iranian language (Sarmatian) also borrowed into Uralic (compare Finnish varsa "foal"),

The usual Indo-European word is represented by Old English eoh, Greek hippos, Latin equus, from PIE root *ekwo-. Another Germanic "horse" word is Old English vicg, from Proto-Germanic *wegja- (source also of Old Frisian wegk-, Old Saxon wigg, Old Norse vigg), which is of uncertain origin. In many other languages, as in English, this root has been lost in favor of synonyms, probably via superstitious taboo on uttering the name of an animal so important in Indo-European religion. For the Romanic words (French cheval, Spanish caballo) see cavalier (n.); for Dutch paard, German Pferd, see palfrey; for Swedish häst, Danish hest see henchman. As plural Old English had collective singular horse as well as horses, in Middle English also sometimes horsen, but horses has been the usual plural since 17c.

Used at least since late 14c. of various devices or appliances which suggest a horse (as in sawhorse), typically in reference to being "that upon which something is mounted." For sense of "large, coarse," see horseradish. Slang use for "heroin" is attested by 1950. To ride a horse that was foaled of an acorn (1670s) was through early 19c. a way to say "be hanged from the gallows." Horse latitudes first attested 1777, the name of unknown origin, despite much speculation. Horse-pistol, "large one-handed pistol used by horseback riders," is by 1704. A dead horse as a figure for something that has ceased to be useful is from 1630s; to flog a dead horse "attempt to revive interest in a worn-out topic" is from 1864.

HORSEGODMOTHER, a large masculine wench; one whom it is difficult to rank among the purest and gentlest portion of the community. [John Trotter Brockett, "A Glossary of North Country Words," 1829]

The term itself is attested from 1560s. The horse's mouth as a source of reliable information is from 1921, perhaps originally of racetrack tips, from the fact that a horse's age can be determined accurately by looking at its teeth. To swap horses while crossing the river (a bad idea) is from the American Civil War and appears to have been originally one of Abe Lincoln's stories. Horse-and-buggy meaning "old-fashioned" is recorded from 1926 slang, originally in reference to a "young lady out of date, with long hair." To hold (one's) horses "restrain one's enthusiasm, be patient" is from 1842, American English; the notion is of keeping a tight grip on the reins.

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horse (v.)

late Old English horsian "to provide with a horse or horses," from horse (n.). Related: Horsed; horsing. Sense of "to play excessive jokes on" is by 1893, mostly in formation horse around (1928), perhaps from horse-play, or from earlier nautical jargon use of the verb in reference to men, "drive or urge to work unfairly and tyrannically" (1867). But also consider the vulgar expressions arsing about (1660s), arsing around (1922).

[A] favorite pastime for many men is to "horse" or guy a friend who has shown himself susceptible to ridicule or fun making. "Horsing" is extremely wholesome mental discipline for over sensitive or super-conceited young men. "Horsing" always implies a joke at another's expense. As to how it came into use there is no satisfactory theory to offer. [Yale Literary Magazine, December 1893]

As a verb, horse also meant "to mount on horseback" (early 14c., horsen), "to spank" as one does a horse to get it to go (1825), also "to copulate, mount" (as a stallion does a mare), hence figuratively, of men, "copulate with" a woman (mid-15c.).

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mill-race (n.)

"current of water that drives a mill-wheel," late 15c., from mill (n.1) + race (n.1) in the "current" sense.

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arms race (n.)

1930, in reference to naval build-ups, from arms (see arm (n.2)) + race (n.1). First used in British English.

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