The Old English word cow came through Proto-Germanic tongues from Proto-Indo-European. Most etymologists believe cow is an onomatopoeic term mimicking the lowing of cattle. Cow-related slang & idioms abound:
Cow-feed is a British Armed services term meaning salad or raw vegetables.
Since 1955 the term cowie has referred to a western film.
British and American cyclists refer to handlebars as cow-horns.
Cow-pat, cow-pattie & cow pie arrived in the language in the 1950s, meaning a single dropping from a cow, calf, or bull.
Cowyard-confetti & cow-confetti are Australian terms born in 1920 & 1930 respectively, meaning nonsense. I think of these terms as the kinder, gentler form of the crasser, tangentially cow-related term bullshit.
In cricket, the terms cow-corner & cow-shot refer to an oft-ignored segment of the field, & a shot into or through that area. This was born of the thought that cows could graze there unmolested during a game.
Though cowboy is most likely derived from caballero, it includes the letters c-o-w so here's some cowboy information: cowboy has many meanings: a bow-legged man, a minor criminal given to violence, a know-it all, a young, inexperienced driver, & someone unqualified or irresponsible. Since 1920, members of the Royal British Navy have referred to baked beans as cowboys (synonyms include prairie rash & yippee beans).
In Canada, a farmer’s straw hat can be referred to as a cow’s breakfast.
Which of these cow-related terms are new to you? Any other thoughts regarding the use or abuse of the word cow?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources: OED, Etymonline, The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang & Unconventional English, & Wordnik
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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