To Haw and Gee

Belgian horses

Photo courtesy


Most dictionaries define the phrase, “To Haw And Gee”, or “To Gee And Haw”, in the following manner.

“To go from one thing to another without good reason; to have no settled purpose; to be irresolute or unstable. [Colloq.]”

When a person flits from one thing to another like a moth, or changes their mind over and over or seemingly has no purpose or destination in mind they are said to haw and gee or to gee and haw. I have heard someone describing another by saying “They don’t know whether to haw or gee”. When I was a child, I was very familiar with the phrase, to Haw and Gee or Gee and Haw.

It’s All About Horses

I am not certain of the country of origin of the two words Gee and Haw, but I have heard them used many times when I lived in the farm country of Southeast Missouri. Most farmers in that area used horses to pull plows, discs and other machinery while doing farm work and the horses needed to understand some sort of horse commands in order to follow the farmer’s instructions. Tractors were scarce in the 1930s and early 1940s. I have seen my Dad plowing or doing other work with a team of horses and when the plow reached the end of the row I could hear my Dad call out “Haw” if he wanted the horses to turn left and he would call out “Gee” if he wanted the horses to turn right. The horses understood those horse commands and usually obeyed them.

Horses, even work horses, are intelligent enough to obey commands if they have been taught well. It is my understanding that the horse command, Haw, in it’s strictest sense, means turn toward the driver and the command, Gee, means turn away from the driver. Drivers of teams in England walk on the right side of the team but drivers of teams in the United States walk on the left side of the team. The command, “Haw” in England would turn the horse to the right but in the United States “Haw” would send the horse to the left. Generally, work horses are not subject to a lot of international travel so the fear of great confusion on the farm is minimal.

I recently watched a Amish farmer near Shipshewana, Indiana who was plowing with a team of beautiful Belgians, 6 horses abreast, and when he came to the end of the field, and stopped, he called out what sounded like “Hah” and the team turned left, with uniform precision. The Belgian at the radius center took very small steps and the horse out near the end of the arc took full steps. These Belgian Horses were powerful and smart too.

Left, Right or Middle?

In today’s world we see many people who seemingly don’t know whether to Haw or to Gee. People are confused as to what is right and what they should do. Many don’t even care what is right, they just want to follow their own whims or desires for the moment and may not have a clear destination in mind.

We hear about “those on the right” and we hear about “those on the left” and we hear about being politically correct. Many of those who consider themselves to be on either the left or the right probably still don’t know what they really believe down deep in their hearts. They are following a man or a slogan or whatever sounds or smells good at the time but when push comes to shove, they don’t know whether to haw or gee. Many of them just don’t hear the commands.

I have heard my Dad speak of someone who was having a lot of trouble making up their mind about something, first leaning in one direction and then the other, as “They are just Gee Hawin’ around”. Sometimes, Dad used that phrase to describe someone who was always “horsing around”, if I may make a play on words, and he would say, “Oh they’re always just Gee Hawin’ around”. Sometimes Dad added a few other comments too.

I believe the Lord wanted me to write this tonight and I don’t know who it might be for but I want to close with a couple of verses from the Old Testament. The Hebrews, after they left Egypt, wondered around in the wilderness, back and forth, sometimes left and sometimes right for a period of about 40 years. There were, no doubt, many among them during that period of uncommitted wonderings who wanted to go left, many who wanted to go right and many who wanted to go back to the land of Egypt, where the melons, cucumbers and onions tasted so good. Then there were many more who didn’t know whether they wanted to Haw or Gee. Some would have been willing to sell their soul for a bunch of onions. Many of them, all the older adults, never reached their original destination because they did not believe God and rebelled against the leading and instructions of God. Before God let the remnant of the people cross the Jordan River and enter the land that He had promised them many years before, He gave them a lot of instructions but I would like to mention just these two verses from Scripture.

Deuteronomy 5:32-33 “So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left. Walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.”

Thank you Lord, for this journey that we are traveling today! Help us not to Haw and Gee or be found guilty of “Gee Hawin’ around”.

James Lloyd Clark

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