A reader asked me, “How does a word like rare become idiomatically used to mean eager, as in ‘raring to go’?”
Answer: It didn’t.
The rare in “raring to go” has nothing to do with the adjective that means, “seldom found.” The rare in raring is an altered pronunciation of the verb to rear: “to make to stand up, to raise.”
Rear is what a horse does when it rises to stand on its hind feet. To rear can also mean, to build or to erect.
The verb rear can be used transitively or intransitively. For example:
And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up, rear an altar unto the LORD in the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.—KJV, 2 Samuel 24:18.
Can a beginner rider cope with a horse that rears?
Another meaning of rear as a verb is “to bring (animals) to maturity or to a certain stage of growth by giving proper nourishment and attention.” For example:
An estimated 60% of breeding sows and 93% of pigs reared for meat spend most or all of their life indoors, the majority on solid or slatted concrete or perforated metal.
Children can also be “reared.” Indeed, I recall an English teacher of my youth who corrected anyone who used the expression “to raise children.” Her habitual retort was, “People raise pigs but rear children.”
Most American speakers these days probably raise children, but some still rear them, as this example from the February 2013 issue of the New York Daily News shows:
The southwest Brooklyn neighborhood [of Bay Ridge] outranked all others as the borough’s best area to rear youngsters in a new report by the Citizen’s Committee for Children.
The earliest OED citation of rare in the sense of “rise up” is dated 1833: “He just rared up upon his hind legs.” The next earliest is dated 1898: “Break ’em with a curb an’ they rare an’ fall back on you.”
The idiom “raring to go” means “to be extremely eager or fully ready to do something.” The connection with rearing is that a person’s desire to act resembles the energy displayed by a rearing horse.
Although US in origin, the expression was used by British writer P.G. Wodehouse as early as 1935 in his novel, The Luck of the Bodkins: “Keep it crisp, because I’m raring to go.”
Nowadays, the expression is used worldwide:
The Congress is raring to go. It is fit as a fighting machine.—Times of India
Our new ‘Bridging the Gap’ students are raring to go!—School website, Lancashire, England.
Our students are raring to go and there are a couple of great student concerts this week at the Con.—Announcement, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, The University of Sydney (Australia)
We’re here and raring to go.—Facebook comment from users in Cambodia.
Aquino raring to go home to QC—Headline, Philippine Daily Inquirer.