smell the barn

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A reference to a livestock animal returning to its barn at the end of the day, especially a horse drawing a carriage which is on the way back home.



smell the barn (third-person singular simple present smells the barn, present participle smelling the barn, simple past and past participle smelled the barn or smelt the barn)

  1. (intransitive, chiefly US, idiomatic) To act with renewed energy or speed or to experience heightened anticipation as one approaches a destination, goal, or other desired outcome.
    We’ll get home right quick—old Dobbin knows the way better than you and I do, and he can smell the barn besides.
    • 1935 August 12, H[ilmar] R[obert] Baukhage, “In the Executive Offices”, in David Lawrence, editor, The United States News: The Weekly Newsmagazine of National Affairs, volume 3, number 32, Washington, D.C., →OCLC, page 4, column 2:
      Anyhow, Congress, like the old horse that starts into a long deferred trot when she "smells the barn," began to show action and as hearts on Capitol Hill leaned homeward, thoughts in the White House turned to the open road—or at least the railroad.
    • 1996 August 11, Ian Fisher, “To U.S. troops in Bosnia, home looks closer”, in The New York Times[1], New York, N.Y.: The New York Times Company, →ISSN, →OCLC, archived from the original on 2021-07-02, page 18:
      [] Charlie Company could leave as early as mid-October—which is soon but not quite soon enough for them. "The horses smell the barn right now," said Capt. Clark D. Carr, the battalion's Protestant chaplain, who knows perhaps better than anyone how badly they want to leave.
    • 2001 summer, Bryan P. McCoy, “Identify and Combat Five Treacherous Phenomena”, in Ground Warrior, Norfolk, Va.: Naval Safety Center, United States Navy, →OCLC:
      Smelling the barn can result in driving too fast, not clearing weapons properly, and bypassing ammunition-recovery procedures.
    • 2005, Helena P. Schrader, chapter 3, in The Olympic Charioteer, Lincoln, Neb.: iUniverse, →ISBN, page 27:
      Antyllus leaned his ear closer to the slave at his feet without taking his eyes off his over-eager team [of horses], which already smelt the barn ahead of them.
    • 2016 May, Walter R. Borneman, “Return to Manila”, in MacArthur at War: World War II in the Pacific, New York, N.Y.: Little, Brown and Company, →ISBN, page 465:
      [H]e [Douglas MacArthur] had smelled the gunpowder again and in old age was once again the dashing young brigadier of World War I; [] This close, he simply couldn't abide sitting still. Like a horse, he smelled the barn and was determined to push ahead.


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