KRCC Operations Manager and weekday afternoon host Mike Procell had been wondering about the etymology of the phrase “pony up.” The Word Detective describes the origin of the phrase as relating to the small horse, and in the late 1700s, specifically as a small amount of money. In question and answer format, here’s the complete posting from The Word Detective:

Dear Word Detective: Do you know the origin of the phrase “pony up” (to pay an account or fine, etc.)? How about “pony keg,” the name for an on-street beer or wine stand, at least in SW Ohio? — Al Harris, via the Internet.

Well, I have a pony question of my own: where the heck is my pony? Every year since I was about five years old I have asked for a pony for my birthday. Now, several decades (ahem) later, I have yet to get my pony. Please don’t give me any guff about a fourth-floor apartment in Manhattan not being a suitable home for a pony. If ponies can make it up those mountains in Scotland, a few flights of stairs should be no problem, and I promise not to take my pony on the subway. As you can see, I have been quite patient, but enough’s enough. Pony up the pony.

The nice thing about your question is that both the uses of “pony” you ask about come from the basic sense of “pony” as “a small horse.” A pony, strictly speaking, is a small breed of horse, rather than simply a young horse, which is called a “foal.” The root of “pony” was the Latin “pullus,” meaning any young animal (which is still with us in the form “pullet,” meaning a young chicken). “Pullus” became the Old French “poulain” (foal), whence came the diminutive “poulenet,” which then trotted over to Scotland and showed up as “powney,” which was later Anglicized to “pony.”

“To pony up” and “pony keg” both embody the “smallness” aspect of “pony.” “Pony” has meant a small amount of money since the late 1700’s, when it specifically meant the sum of twenty-five pounds sterling (which was actually a hefty hunk of change at the time, but go figure). “Pony kegs,” popular at fraternity parties and the like, are smaller than standard tavern-sized kegs, by analogy to a “pony” of liquor, which has meant a small glass of spirits since the mid-1800’s.

 

2 Responses to Etymology of “Pony Up”

  1. Andrea Chalfin News Dir. says:

    Another consideration (the impetus courtesy of a KRCC volunteer) comes from Psalm 119:33,

    “Legem pone mihi, Domine, viam justificationum tuarum” (“Teach me, O Lord, the way of thy statues”).

    It’s a psalm Catholics read on the 25th of each month, according to the book Catholic Trivia: Our Forgotten Heritage by Mark Turnham Elvins (as accessed through a Google Books link).

    Legem pone, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, means “payment of money cash down,” and is associated with the above mentioned psalm correlated to the 25th of the month, which in turn, relates to an old calendar of debts due and payments made.

  2. Mary Ellen says:

    And it brings to mind a popular Western phrase, (time to) Cowboy Up, meaning best translated by the baseball phrase,(time to) Step Up To The Plate. PONY UP, PEOPLE!

News

Courtesy of WBUR
December 10, 2016 | WBUR · Dear Sugar Radio is a podcast offering “radical empathy” and advice for the lost, lonely and heartsick. Today the hosts think about how watching porn can affect a couple’s marriage and sex life.
 

NPR
December 10, 2016 | NPR · Working in difficult circumstances, lawyers and judges do their best to administer justice. NPR was present at a trial of a man accused of repairing ISIS vehicles. He and relatives denied ISIS links.
 

December 10, 2016 | NPR · President-elect Donald Trump has promised to tap into his business experience to run the country. As a businessman, he has been willing to adjust his plans to get things done.
 

Arts & Life

Getty Images
December 10, 2016 | NPR · This week, we welcome the world’s foremost Larry David impersonator (and 2016 Democratic presidential candidate) onto the show.
 

December 10, 2016 | NPR · The Lillian Booth Home in Englewood, N.J., is run by the Actors Fund as both a nursing facility and assisted living. Like the residents, many of the staff come from the entertainment industry.
 

Joffrey/Boneau/Bryan-Brown
December 10, 2016 | NPR · Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has a fresh take on the classic Christmas tale. The $4 million Joffrey Ballet production premieres Saturday, and doesn’t center around a wealthy Victorian family.
 

Music

The Historic New Orleans Collection
December 10, 2016 | NPR · Barker played with everyone from Billie Holliday to Cab Calloway to Jelly Roll Morton. Scott Simon speaks with Music Inside Out host Gwen Thompkins about the late banjo player and guitarist’s legacy.
 

Courtesy of the artist
December 9, 2016 | NPR · The Grammy-winning saxophonist plays Duke Ellington standards with host Marian McPartland in a 1994 session.
 

Youth Radio
December 9, 2016 | YouthRadio · One week ago, a fire ripped through an Oakland warehouse that was being used as a music venue and artist community. Hear the music of four up-and-coming electronic artists who died in that fire.
 

Get the KRCC iPhone App

The Writer's Almanac

Radiolab