A friend shared a 1935 communication from an American airman trying to get out of equine training. The airman explains:

  1. It is requested that I be relieved from attending the course in Equitation, for the following reasons:
    a. I have never liked a horse, nor admired one, except at a safe distance; ...
    c. I am afraid of a horse, do not understand them, and doubt if they have any sense.
  2. I fail to see that horses have any place in the science of aviation.

Is referring to, i.e., all horses with "a horse" (singular indefinite generic reference?) common to this time period? Is there a name for this historic trend?

What about the structure of 2 prompts the writer to switch to using "horses"?

  • Uh… no. All that's happened here is that the airman has written something without thinking much about it, and certainly without caring a horse's tail for any rules of writing. Questions based on that might be worth asking if they were about the writer's phsychology but never about his use of language, as such. Aug 21, 2017 at 20:07
  • 3
    Yes, a horse here is singular indefinite generic reference. See www-personal.umich.edu/~jlawler/000001.html for why the writer might switch to plural Sep 9, 2017 at 13:48

1 Answer 1


To me it just looks like in 1. he's trying to be specific in that he's never liked any horse, with no exceptions. As if he's trying to convey that there is no way he would tolerate being around a horse as is there no kind of horse that he doesn't dislike, nor is there any situation where he would tolerate being involved with a horse.

I don't see this as a grammatical difference, just a difference in how he relays the idea. It doesn't look archaic to me, though it is possible that people today don't use this kind of construction as often as they used to. I wouldn't know though.

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