Yesterday as we were sitting in traffic, my husband said he would have gone "around the horn" had he known traffic was so bad, meaning to take a longer way. What is the derivation of this phrase?


3 Answers 3


"Around the Horn" has always referred to Cape Horn, but it's only since the existence of the Panama Canal that it has been "the longer way". With modern ships it's not the danger it was in the days of sail, but it would still be a very expensive detour in many cases.

  • While the origin of "around the horn" was certainly the act of sailing around Cape Horn, I disagree that it has "always" referred to Cape Horn. It is arguably more common to hear the phrase used in the context of baseball, referring to the practice of throwing the ball around the infield and back to the pitcher after an out when there are no base runners.
    – Dr. Funk
    Commented Feb 11, 2016 at 19:18
  • 3
    Only because these days there are more baseball fans than sailors.
    – user597
    Commented May 25, 2016 at 13:34

It originally referred to sailing around Cape Horn (at the southern tip of South America), which was a long and dangerous journey.

According to The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins,

In the days of the tall ships any sailor who had sailed around Cape Horn was entitled to spit to windward; otherwise, it was a serious infraction of nautical rules of conduct. Thus, the permissible practice of spitting to windward was called 'round the horn.' Cape Horn isn't so named because it is shaped like a horn. Captain Schouten, the Dutch navigator who first rounded it in 1616, named it after Hoorn, his birthplace in northern Holland.

  • 7
    The author of this entry in the Encyclopedia of Words and Phrases has clearly never set foot off dry land or even out of his musty old study. There are no "nautical rules of conduct" as such. Spitting into the wind is Just Plain Stupid, as any Farmer, let alone Sailor, could tell you. Any fool is "entitled" to do so at any time, with the obvious consequences. This has got to be one of the stupidest pieces of ungrounded-in-reality-academia I've read in quite a while.
    – user597
    Commented Mar 27, 2011 at 17:47
  • 1
    That part did strike me as being rather strange.
    – Hellion
    Commented Mar 28, 2011 at 0:47

Throwing the baseball from the catcher to the first baseman to the second basemean to the third baseman and back to the catcher - around the horn

  • 4
    Do you have any references for this origin? The other answers sound a lot more believable.
    – p.s.w.g
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 23:12

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