Q: Hi AWC
A: Hello. Are you ready to begin?
Q: Absolutely! I’m rearing to go.
A: Actually, if that were the case, you’d be “raring to go”.
Q: “Raring”? What even IS that? I’ve only heard of “rare” – and never as a verb.
A: It’s true that “rare” only exists as an adjective. Either to describe something extremely uncommon…
Q: For example, my Uncle Dudley’s rare stamp collection.
A: …Or something not thoroughly cooked.
Q: For example, my Uncle Dudley’s rare meat collection.
A: Your uncle has a collection of rare meat?
Q: Yes. He keeps them in a makeshift chilled cabinet, but it’s not very well done.
Q: Not well done at all.
A: We get it.
Q: Actually, his neighbour collects similar meat too, so it’s more of a medium-rare rare meat collection…
A: We’re going to move on.
Q: Please do.
A: Like you, many assume that the phrase is “rearing to go”. For starters, “rearing” is a common word – a verb meaning “to raise” or “rise up”. We typically see it in two areas; the first in “child rearing” (raising children) and the second as in a horse (or other animal) rearing up on its hind legs.
Q: Yes! I think of a horse doing that, which is why I think they are “rearing to go”!
A: Well it seems like it would make sense, but most dictionaries of the world, including Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary and USA’s Merriam-Webster have it as “raring to go” – with “raring” coming from “rare” meaning to “rise up”.
Q: But wait – didn’t “rear” mean that? I’m confused.
A: Remember, this is an idiomatic phrase we’re talking about – and they’re like language time capsules. Whatever was going on in English back when the phrase was first recorded is set in stone.
Q: Like fossils?
A: Yes! And there was a window of time between 1833 and the early 1900s when “rare” was a variant to “rear” – also meaning “rise up”. Around 1909 – while “rare” still held this definition, it gave rise to “raring” – meaning “eager”. And THIS leant itself to “raring to go”.
Q: So even though “rare” fell out of favour, “raring” stuck around?
A: That’s right. Even today, “raring” still means eager, even though there is no related “rare” definition in common usage. So an athlete can be “raring to get started” or “raring to compete” and so on.
Q: And so if a horse is rearing, then it could be a sign that it’s raring to go?
A: That’s right!
Q: Well thanks for clearing that up for me. I’m off to Uncle Dudley’s house. We’re going to barbecue some of his rare meat on his roof.
A: Sounds a bit dangerous.
Q: Yes, the steaks are high.