Charley Horse or Charlie Horse – Which is Correct?

If you are an athlete, you have probably experienced an involuntary, painful muscle cramp or spasm in your leg while playing sports. It is a common injury, and it has many names in different cultures.

A common North American term for this injury is either charley horse. Some people mistakenly spell this in other ways, mimicking the name Charlie.

What is the Difference Between Charley Horse and Charlie Horse?

In this article, I will compare charley horse vs. charlie horse. I will outline the correct spelling and showcase its use in a proper context.

Plus, I will show you a memory tool that you can use to help you decide between these terms in your own writing.

When to Use Charley Horse

Definition of Charlie horse definition and definition of Charley horse definition What does charley horse mean? Charley horse is a North American colloquial name for a muscle cramp in the leg.

In other regions, the local term translates to other strange names, like paralyzer (Portugal), water buffalo (central Italy), donkey bite (southern Italy), and old woman (northwestern Italy). One might surmise that Italians experience altogether more of these injuries than people in other nations.

The medical term is simply muscle cramp.

At any rate, here are a few examples of charley horse in a sentence:

  • Esmerelda got a charley horse while playing soccer.
  • Zack complained that he had a charley horse to get out of gym class.
  • Benjamin avoided charley horses by not participating in sports.
  • Both teams were missing key pieces for their only league meeting, with Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted suspended and star Toronto striker Sebastian Giovinco out with a charley horse. –The Washington Post

To here the origin story or charley horse, see here.

When to Use Charlie Horse

Define Charlie horse and define Charley horse What does charlie horse mean? Charlie Horse is an uncommon misspelling of charley horse.

It is probably derived from the male name Charlie, a diminutive form of the name Charles. Nonetheless, the phrase charlie horse is not properly used to describe muscle cramps.

As you can see in the below chart, charlie horse is rarely used relative to charley horse. 

Charley horse versus Charlie horse

It is used in other ways, though. Sometimes, businesses will use charlie horse as a play on words of the popular phrase charley horse.

For example,

  • Charlie Horse is the name of an Australian rock band whose debut album was named I Hope I’m Not a Monster.
  • The Charlie Horse Saloon is a bar in Portland, OR, that was once famous for operating illegally after hours in a secret room only accessible through a trapdoor.
  • Charlie Horse Ranch is a software company that produces a program used for gambling on barrel races.

Trick to Remember the Difference

Now, let’s go over a helpful trick to remember charlie horse vs. charley horse.

When you are referencing muscle cramps, there is only one correct spelling: charley horse.

Since charley horse and donkey bite, two colloquial terms for the same injury, are both spelled with an E-Y at the end, you should have only minimal trouble remembering when to use each of these terms.


Is it charley horse or charlie horse? Charley horse is a term for a muscle spasm in the leg. Charlie horse can mean many different things, but never a muscle spasm in the leg.

Since charley horse and donkey bite, another name for charley horse, are both spelled ending with the letters E-Y, you can remember the unique cultural names for this injury as a way to remember when charley horse is more appropriate.

In summary,

  • Charley horse is a muscle cramp.
  • Charlie horse is misspelling.

Lastly, if you are ever stuck choosing charlie horse or charley horse in your writing, be sure to revisit this page.