The idiom one-horse town has been around at least since the mid-1800s. An idiom is a figure of speech that is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. We will examine the meaning of the phrase one-horse town, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
A one-horse town is a town that is extremely small, with a slow pace, few amenities and no excitement. The term one-horse was once used much more widely. In the 1700s, one-horse literally meant a device powered by one horse, such as a one-horse carriage or one-horse plow. One hundred years later, one-horse came to mean something small, insignificant and with few amenities, such as a one-horse hotel. This usage has fallen out of style except in the phrase one-horse town, which is chiefly an American idiom. Generally, it is considered a mild insult to call someplace a one-horse town. Note that one-horse is hyphenated.
The single follows a couple as they drive “’til we run out of road in this one-horse town” — a getaway that leaves Swift’s narrator emboldened and happy, rather than dejected. (Billboard Magazine)
Loudonville is a quaint one-horse town of 2,641 genuinely lovely people founded in 1814, 75% of whose residents voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election. (The Hindu)
Then it’s on to one-horse town locations across Alberta, B.C. and Sask., where he’ll share a few stories between tunes as he begins the B.S. with C.L. Solo Acoustic Tour across Western Canada. (The Calgary Herald)
I moved to Chicago in 2007 to work for Vocalo and then for WBEZ, and truly thought I’d be there forever, because it had always been my dream to work there, and because I loved Chicago, and Chicago was sort of a one-horse town when it came to opportunities in radio. (The Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard)