Imagine the situation when we're trying to talk about yourself to someone in more-or-less formal style. I mean, that's not very formal, but nevertheless we can't use AAVE or something similar. For instance, when a tutor asks one of their students to talk about themselves. Could they say:

I'm Mike and I currently live in one-horse town near New-York.

I'm not sure about if the one-horse town is acceptable? When we can use that phrase?

  • 1
    You could just say "a small town", "a very small town", or you could add specifics as to population, number of houses, &c. But I would suggest not using the term "one horse town", period, as it would be considered somewhat insulting*. Unless of course it's your horse, and you're complaining about not having anyone to ride with :-) (*Also, from personal experience, most so-called one-horse towns hereabouts tend to have quite a few horses, sometimes more than there are people.)
    – jamesqf
    Jun 10 '15 at 18:52
  • @jamesqf I didn't mean small town, I'd like to say something like country-style town instead, if it possible. Jun 10 '15 at 18:54
  • Who would the term be insulting to? Maybe residents of the one-horse town. Are the residents of the town going to able to cause a backlash against the OP? Only if so, I might stay clear of using it. It's better than saying podunk town.
    – user6951
    Jun 10 '15 at 19:39

One-horse does not mean "country, rural" but "small" or "insignificant"; it arose in days when the horse was the principal source of motive power, and a one-horse carriage or plow was much less impressive than those pulled by an entire team. When the term was widely current it was applied to heads as diverse as banks, lawyers, companies and candidates for office.

Even today, when you practically never encounter it except with "town", it suggests "rural" only incidentally, because most small and insignificant towns are rural. To say that you live in a one-horse town means you live in a town without significant population or commercial and cultural amenities.

  • So, in some circmstnaces it may mean something like the small town in the country, right? Or it mean exactly the same as it? Jun 11 '15 at 4:55
  • "In the country" is simply not part of the meaning. It might COINCEDENTALLY be true that the town is in the country, but that's not what the word means.
    – Jay
    Jun 11 '15 at 5:33

Such phrases as one-horse town really imprint a picture in the mind of the listener. Which is probably why even in formal talks by politicians or others, they will occasionally use such phrases.

The phrase could certainly be effective in a context where you want to emphasize the contrast from your origins and where you are now.

When talking about yourself in a semi-formal context that you've described, I see no reason not to use such a phrase now and again (every so often), but not to fill your speech with them, or you may come across as a hick or hillbilly.

Having said that, I tend to think this question could be classified as way too "opinion based."

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