On your tod
Ah, solitude. There are times when there seems nothing better than snatching some time for yourself or going unaccompanied somewhere, with just the pleasure of your own company. In such circumstances, in the popular vernacular, you could be described as being on your tod. It means on your own or alone and is used with each of the singular possessive pronouns – my, your, his, her and their. Obviously, using it with plural possessives would be nonsensical.
The derivation of our phrase is pretty straight forward. It is a piece of rhyming slang, with tod an abbreviation of Tod Sloan and sloan being a rhyme of alone, which is what someone on their tod is. The big question, however, is what or who was a tod sloan?
Well, Tod was a real character, a rather successful and famous jockey, as it happens. Born in 1874 in Bunker Hill in Indiana, his real name was James Forman Sloan, although during the course of his racing career he claimed his middle name was Todhunter which was then abbreviated to Tod. His abilities as a jockey were such that in America he won some 36 per cent of his races in 1896, 37 per cent in 1897 and an incredible 46 per cent in 1898.
In late 1898 Sloan tried his luck in England. On 30th September that year he won five consecutive races at Newmarket. Sloan’s style of jockeying astonished the crowds. They were used to seeing jockeys sitting bolt upright on their nags but Sloan popularised a style which was known as the “monkey crouch” which saw the jockey squatting high in his stirrups and crouching over the horse’s neck. Scientists have calculated that this method of riding increases the horse’s speed by up to six per cent, mainly because the nag doesn’t have to bear the rider’s weight every time it takes a stride.
Further success accompanied him in 1899 and 1900 and in 1901 he became the preferred jockey for the Prince of Wales’ stable. His success on the track and his lifestyle off it – he was often seen in the company of the belles of the time – meant that he became one of the first international celebrities of the sport of kings. But tragedy struck later that year when the Jockey Club, horse racing’s governing body, informed him that his licence would not be renewed, the suspicion being that he had been betting on races he was competing in. The ban was extended to the United States and Sloan’s career was over.
Sloan had a varied career after his enforced retirement and died in 1933 from cirrhosis of the liver in Los Angeles. Following his death his reputation was rehabilitated when racing historians demonstrated that the charges against him were spurious at best and in 1955 he was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. His greater claim to fame, though, was lending his name to a bit of rhyming slang, in use until this day.
The Australians (natch) have a variant. Someone who is on his own is on his Pat Malone, a phrase which has, perhaps, an earlier derivation to on your tod, first appearing in 1907. There was a popular ballad called Paddy Malone in Australia, dating from around the 1870s and appearing in a collection of ditties published by the inestimable Banjo Paterson in 1906, which told of the trials and tribulations of Malone, native of Tipperary, who returned to the Emerald Isle sadder and wiser from his time down under. Malone is obviously a rhyme of alone and the two variants may have sprung up separately.
It would be nice to think that Sloan and Malone were not on their tod.
Filed under: Culture, History Tagged: ballad of Pat Malone, James Forman Sloan, monkey crouch style of riding, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, origin of on your Pat Malone, origin of on your tod, Sloan the champion jockey, Tod Sloan means alone
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