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Metaphor, from the idea of a livestock animal returning to its barn at the day's end.


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smell the barn

  1. (chiefly US, idiomatic) To experience heightened anticipation or to act with renewed speed or energy as one approaches a destination, goal, or other desired outcome.
    • 1996 Aug. 11, Ian Fisher, "To U.S. Troops in Bosnia, Home Looks Closer," The New York Times, p. 18:
      "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.
    • 1998 Nov. 4, "Age has its advantages, says Bonnie Neglia", Gazette, University of Waterloo (retrieved 14 June 2007):
      "I visualize the finish line to keep going—like the horse smelling the barn—and try to finish as strong as I can."
    • 2001, LtCol. Bryan P. McCoy, "Identify and Combat Five Treacherous Phenomena," Ground Warrior (Summer), U.S. Navy Naval Safety Center (retrieved 14 June 2007):
      Smelling the barn can result in driving too fast, not clearing weapons properly, and bypassing ammunition-recovery procedures.