Konrad Yakabuski, a Washington-based Globe and Mail correspondent, writes about U.S. politics and policy. The New Year’s Day edition of the Globe featured an article by him that dealt with the U.S. struggle re its “fiscal cliff.” In the article, Yakabuski used an expression we all know. Well, he sort of used it.
Everyone is familiar with, “raring to go.” We know it means, “eager to begin.” Yakabuski wrote: “Mr. Obama is raring for another fight over tax increases.”
Since I’d never heard raring used without the accompanying to go, I wondered about Yakabuski’s usage. But that just shows I don’t always know what I’m talking about. At about the same time, the New York Times ran this headline: “Congress is raring at the gate of tax cuts.”
Oxford says raring to go is the dialectal pronunciation of rearing to go. That is, it’s a corruption of rearing to go which refers to the way a horse rears up on its hind feet. In fact, rearing to go was originally used only in connection with four-legged animals.
This phrase is not standard English. Those few phrase books and dictionaries that bother to list it, categorize it as colloquial, informal or slang. Classifying raring to go as colloquial, Oxford says rear is Late
Middle English and probably originated in the Old Teutonic raizjan (to cause to stand up).
The way it’s used today is recent. Oxford dates it to 1909. However, “to rear,” meaning to get on one’s feet, can be traced all the way back to 1580.
Slang dictionaries aren’t much help with this phrase. Cassell says only that it arises from “rear up” and is 20th century usage.
Since raring to go implies eagerness, raring on its own, as used by Yakabuski and the Times, possibly means that both Obama and the U.S. Congress are keen for another tax cut fight.
The Times is renowned for its use of good English. Also, Yakabuski is a fine writer. So it’s likely both use raring correctly, despite the fact that raring is so attached to “to go” that most of us will never have heard it used on its own before.
The image both sources seek to impart is of the U.S. president and the American Congressional Assembly as eager as race horses to get some action regarding their country’s fiscal crisis.
As for raring, a word always used with an infinitive, according to Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary, it must be noted that neither the Times nor
Yakabuski did use the word with an infinitive.
So is this new usage? Are we looking at usage that one day will be dated as 2013 by Oxford? Or do both the Times and Yakabuski mean, “rearing up” and not, “eager to go?”
Only time will tell. As of this date, there’s nothing written on the topic.
Note: The “infinitive” is an unconjugated verb form commonly identified by the word “to” — to go, to sit, to study. In the so-called “bare infinitive,” the word “to” is omitted, but implied.