Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Hobbyhorse


The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is hobbyhorse. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Hobbyhorse usually refers to a topic that someone dwells on, returning to again and again, especially in conversation.

// The so-called “Curse of the Bambino” was a favorite hobbyhorse of my Red Sox-loving grandfather until the team finally won the World Series in 2004.


“In the foreword to her book A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, the historian Barbara W. Tuchman offered a warning to people with simplistic ideas about what life was like in the medieval world. … Her book was published in 1978 and won the National Book Award for History, but in the nearly half century since, the Middle Ages have been a common hobbyhorse for people of all political persuasions who suspect modernity might be leading us down the primrose path, especially as the internet has become a more central and inescapable element of daily life.” — Amanda Mull, The Atlantic, 6 May 2022

Did You Know?

Does your favorite hobby involve a horse? Whether it does or not, the word hobby is undeniably equine: it’s a shortening of the older term hobbyhorse. And in a strange etymological twist, the word hobbyhorse is itself a product of an older word hobby that in the 1400s referred to a small or medium-sized horse, especially one that moved at a gentle pace. By the mid 1500s, hobby horse was being used to refer to a horse costume worn by a person participating in a morris dance or other performance, and then to a toy consisting of a stick with a toy horse’s head at one end that a child pretends to ride. By the next century the literal horse was unneeded, and hobbyhorse could refer to a favorite pursuit or pastime—that is, our modern hobby. From pastime, the meaning of hobbyhorse was extended to “a subject that someone returns to repeatedly, especially in conversation.” This sense is typically encountered in such phrases as “get on one’s hobbyhorse” or “ride one’s hobbyhorse.”

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