Green’s Dictionary of Slang

charley horse n.

also charlie horse, horse
[orig. baseball use c.1886]

1. (orig. US) a cramp or sudden stiffness in the leg; thus charley-horsed, suffering from such a problem.

[US]Boston Globe 17 July 5: Several years ago, says the ChicagoTribune, Joe Quest, now of the Athletics, gave the name of ‘Charlie horse’ to a peculiar contraction and hardening of the muscles and tendons of the thigh, to which base ball players are especially liable from the sudden starting and stopping in chasing balls, as well as the frequent slides in base running.
[UK]Sporting Life 29 Sept 4/6: [heading] Joe Quinn is troubled with ‘Charley-horse.’.
[US]World (N.Y.) 19 June 11/1: He has had a severe attack of the ‘charley horse’ and has been unable to do any base-running or really effective fielding.
[US]Cincinnati Commercial Gazette 17 Mar. 15/1: Toward the close of the season Mac was affected with a ‘Charley-horse’ and that ended his ball-playing for 1888 [DA].
[US]World (N.Y.) 18 May 9/1: In spite of a serious attack of ‘Charley horse,’ he was a receptive without leak for buck’s throws.
[US]N.Y. Times 11 June in Fleming Unforgettable Season (1981) 92: Cy Seymour, our charley-horsed center fielder.
[UK]Sporting Times 23 May 2/4: Some boxin’ chumps get Charley-horse from throwin’ out their feet.
[US]Amer. Mag. Apr. 786/1: Rubbing with volatile oils and steady massaging serve to press the muscle back to position, but the ‘horse’ returns at the next serious strain [DA].
[US]S.F. Bulletin 16 May 18/2: Kid Mohler’s old friend, popularly known in baseball as ‘charley horse,’ is again the unwelcome visitor. The vet’s legs have been none too sound these couple years.
[US]Van Loan ‘The Good Old Wagon’ in Lucky Seventh (2004) 203: Bowman’s batting eye may have been bad, and his legs a bit Charley-horsed, but there was nothing much the matter with [...] his right fist.
[US]H.C. Witwer Kid Scanlon 173: He must have had rheumatism or a pair of charley horses.
[US]E. Dahlberg Bottom Dogs 104: That ball player slung his bat all the way from the plate to the pitcher, getting him rite on the charley-horse.
[US]H. McCoy They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? in Four Novels (1983) 39: There’s a charley horse on Couple 22.
[US]J.T. Farrell ‘Clifford and William’ in To Whom It May Concern 165: I’m taking a walk. I got charley horse and I want to get rid of it.
[US]N. Algren Man with the Golden Arm 74: A little charley horse is all you got.
[US]Kerouac On the Road (The Orig. Scroll) (2007) 281: The work was so hard that I quickly developed Charley Horses in my arms.
[US]E. Wilson Earl Wilson’s N.Y. 377: You [...] wake up next day with a crick in your back or maybe a Charley horse.
[US]G.V. Higgins Digger’s Game (1981) 82: I got a charley horse in my leg.
[US]R. Price Ladies’ Man (1985) 257: My forearm charleyhorsed.
[US]R. Campbell In La-La Land We Trust (1999) 149: He was brought down by the worst charley horse ever known in Louisiana sports.
[US]‘Randy Everhard’ Tattoo of a Naked Lady 26: I got a charlie horse and screwed her harder to keep from howling.

2. in fig. use of sense 1.

[US]Des Moines Register (IA) 6 Mar. 14/4: One who is a little slow mentally [...] has [a] ‘charley horse between the ears’ [or] may have ‘holes in the head’.