WNW: Until the Cows Come Home

One curious (dare I say word-nerdy?) reader asked where the phrase until the cows come home comes from.

I had no idea, but that's exactly the kind of random thing I like to find out.

We all know the basic gist of the phrase: partying or doing something else for a really long time, such as late into the night.

But where do the cows fit in? And why use cows when they're such lazy, unmotivated creatures?

Ah, so that's where my handy research came in.

Cows are lazy, yes. But there is one time they're very motivated: when their udders are filled up and it's time for milking. If they're full of milk and don't get relief, you'll hear them lowing and mooing all over the place because they're uncomfortable.

(Mothers out there who have nursed babies, you know what they're feeling, right? OUCH!)

So the idea is that you can hang out all night and party until it's milking time in the wee hours of the morning: when the cows, on their own, will decide that hey, let's go home to get some relief, because we're kinda hurting.

According to the OED, 'til the cows come home has been in use since at least 1610. One website touts that it's been around centuries longer, but the quotes they used to verify the claim are, to me, obviously modern references to historical events, so I'm going with the OED on this one.

(I didn't write down who first asked the question, so if it was you, be sure to say so in the comments so you can get credit!)

NOTE:
TODAY, 6:30 PM PACIFIC TIME, (that's 7:30 pm for Utah folks), I get to be part of my first-ever Twitter party. It's hosted by Busy Mommy Media, and we'll be talking about Band of Sisters and specifically how to support military families.

FIVE prizes will be awarded, three copies of Band of Sisters, and two copies of There, Their, They're.

For details and to learn how to participate, visit the "Mom Storm" page for the party at Busy Mommy Media HERE.

Hope to see you there!

Comments

Lara said…
I didn't ask the original question, but I have wondered about that phrase before. I think it's fascinating that we still use so many phrases that deal with farming or other things that were just a given 3 hundred years ago, but are not quite so universal anymore. But I guess cows still come home, even if it's not to my house!
T.J. said…
I didn't ask the original question. But I'm so glad to see Word Nerd Wednesday return. Maybe it's only been a week, but if feels like forever since I felt good about my nerdiness.
Kristina P. said…
I had never even thought of this one. How funny.

And I LOVE your new header!
New header = awesome

Also, I wish WE could have partied til the cows came home at CBC. It seems every time we bumped into each other we were on the run or mid-conversation.

Would have loved to have talked to you more! But I'm SO glad I got to see you in real life :)
Eric W. Trant said…
If you've ever lost your cows -- which I have, many times, when my brother and I would leave the gate open, and then later we'd get a whuppin' with a 34" leather belt that tattooed the name Wheeler backwards on our respective arses -- you'd know that cows do NOT come home.

Ever.

They'll wander mindlessly through the hills, the neighbor's pasture, the corn fields, down the dirt road to the lake...

Mindless beasts that stick their noses to the dirt looking for the next sprout of grass. That's it.

Now, if you asked me what The grass is greener on the other side of the fence meant, I'd tell you it's because those thinkless beasts always stick their heads through the barbed wire to eat off the other side, even if there are cubes and a hay bale right at their feet.

Weird animals.

- Eric
Annette Lyon said…
Eric, Thanks for that! It's clear that you speak from experience! Too funny.
Myrna Foster said…
I'm with Eric. We had cows, and I had to hunt them down whenever they got out before they broke into someone else's feed. So maybe the person who came up with the saying didn't have cows or had servants who did the chasing. If they did have cows, they were an idealist.
Annette Lyon said…
Or maybe the phrase REALLY means "NEVER"--because the cows won't ever come home on their own!
Myrna Foster said…
LOL! That could be it!
Myrna Foster said…
Kind of like "when pigs fly."
Jennie said…
I have to disagree with Eric a little bit. I grew up on a dairy farm and it's true when it's milking time, the cows wander toward the barn on their own if you're late going after them. It's also true that cows get out a lot and wander all over the country if no one goes after them, but that usually isn't at milking time. In my experience it was usually in the middle of the night. I once had the weird experience of a neighbors's cow that got out and wandered into our barn where I was milking at milking time.
DeNae said…
Love, love, love the new look over here! And I enjoyed spending time with you at CBC; hope your headache finally went away.

And I was with you when Jo O. asked what ... something ... meant. Dang. I thought I could come up with it. I guess I'll have to swing by her place and have her remind me. Then we can get to the bottom of THAT one, too!
MommyJ said…
I think it was Inkmom that asked the original question. Maybe? The answer is hilarious.

As a currently nursing mother, I can totally relate. Except I don't gravitate to a barn when I get uncomfortable. I'm not sure a barn would do me much good.
InkMom said…
It was indeed my question, and I thank you kindly for answering it!
Evie said…
One of the things I love about Poland is that if you are driving around twilight in the summer (around 9 or 10 pm) you see lots of farmers and more commonly fat farmer women bringing the cows home. Pulling them by their chains with other cows following behind. They are all black and white spotted cows. You can see them from the road way out in the fields being taken home and sometimes they actually take the road to get home. I love it. That and seeing horse-drawn ancient wooden trailers full of things like apples or cabbages going down the highway.
LisAway said…
Oops, forgot Ev was signed in. Anyway, wanted to say I LOVE the new everything about your blog! The header is terrific!
Sher said…
Having grown up on a dairy farm, I had an inkling of what the phrase meant, but never thought to ask. Thanks for clearing it up for me!
Nishant said…
I had never even thought of this one. How funny.
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