Holy cow (expression)

"Holy cow!" (and similar) is an exclamation of surprise used mostly in the United States, Canada, Australia, and England and is a minced oath or euphemism for "Holy Christ!" The expression dates to at least 1905,[1] and its earliest known appearance was in a tongue-in-cheek letter to the editor: "A lover of the cow writes to this column to protest against a certain variety of Hindu oath having to do with the vain use of the name of the milk producer. There is the profane exclamations, "holy cow!" and, "By the stomach of the eternal cow!""[2] The phrase appears to have been adopted as a means to avoid penalties for using obscene or indecent language and may have been based on a general awareness of the holiness of cows in some religious traditions.[1]

From the Dictionary of American Slang (1960):[3]

"Holy Buckets!" Equiv. to "Holy cats!" or "Holy Mike!" both being euphemisms for "Holy Christ!". This term is considered to be very popular among teenagers, and most teens claim it is definitely a very popular phrase. It is also the common oath and popular exclamation put into the mouths of teenagers by many screenwriters, and is universally heard on radio, television, and in the movies. It was first popularized by the "Corliss Archer" series of short stories, television programs, and movies, which attempted to show the humorous, homey side of teenage life.

Expressions such as "Holy buckets!", "Holy underwear!", etc. also employ a play-on-words, "holy" implying "riddled with holes". Paul Beale, however, revised Eric Partridge's A Dictionary of Catch Phrase and cites a different origin:[4]

The original "Captain Marvel" and "Batman" oaths, "holy (something harmless)," were in turn spoofed in the later 20th century by whatever seemed relevant to the situation. Nigel Rees, in Very Interesting… But Stupid: Catchphrases from the World of Entertainment, 1980, instances "holy flypaper!", "holy cow!", "holy felony!", "holy geography!", "holy schizophrenia!", "holy haberdashery!", etc., and adds, "The prefix 'holy' to any exclamation was particularly the province of Batman and Robin, characters created by Bob Kane and featured in best-selling comic books for over thirty years before they were portrayed by Adam West and Burt Ward in the TV film series."

The phrase "Holy cow!" was used by baseball players at least as early as 1913[5] and probably much earlier.[1] It became associated with several American baseball broadcasters. The phrase may have originated with reporter and broadcaster Halsey Hall who worked in Minneapolis, Minnesota from 1919 until his death in 1977. According to Paul Dickson, New Orleans radio announcer Jack Holiday also used the phrase on broadcasts of the minor-league New Orleans Pelicans in the 1930s.[6] Harry Caray was the broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals (1945–1969), Oakland Athletics (1970), Chicago White Sox (1971–1981), and Chicago Cubs (1982–1997), and he began using it early in his career in order to prevent himself from lapsing into vulgarity.[7] New York Yankees shortstop and announcer Phil Rizzuto was also well-known for the phrase; when the Yankees honored him following his retirement, the ceremony included a real cow with a halo prop on its head. 1950s Milwaukee Braves broadcaster Earl Gillespie was also known for this expression.

The comic book series Common Grounds was based on the mini-comic Holey Crullers, named after its setting in a coffee and doughnut shop called Holey Crullers.[8]

1998-D029012 (4204611062)
Sign on the side of the Chicago Varnish Company Building depicting Harry Caray, circa 1998

See also


  1. ^ a b c Brown, Peter Jensen. "Holy Cow! Hinduism and Baseball". Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  2. ^ "With the Long Bow". The Minneapolis Journal. November 24, 1905. p. 24. Retrieved March 13, 2017.
  3. ^ Wentworth, Harold; Flexner, Stuart B. (1960). Dictionary of American Slang. New York: Crowell. p. 264. OCLC 318952.
  4. ^ Partridge, Eric (1986). Paul Beale (ed.). A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. p. 193. ISBN 0-415-05916-X.
  5. ^ Popick, Barry. "The Big Apple". Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  6. ^ Dickson, Paul (1999). The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary. San Diego: Harcourt Brace. p. 254. ISBN 0-15-600580-8.
  7. ^ Caray, Harry; Verdi, Bob (1989). Holy Cow!. New York: Villard. ISBN 0-394-57418-4.
  8. ^ CBR Staff. "'Common Grounds' brewed up at Top Cow". CBR.com. Retrieved March 11, 2018.
Holy cow

Holy cow may refer to:

Holy cow (expression), an exclamation of surprise

Cattle in religion, particularly in Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and ancient Egyptian religion

Bull (mythology), as it pertains to ancient mythology

Holy Cow: A Modern-Day Dairy Tale, a novel by David Duchovny

Holy shit

Holy shit may refer to:

Holy Shit (band), a 2000s indie rock band formed by Matt Fishbeck and Ariel Pink

Holy Shit, 2003 self-titled EP

Holy Shit (album), a 2011 album by Living with Lions

"Holy Shit", a song by Father John Misty, appearing his 2015 album I Love You, Honeybear

"Holy Shit!", a song by Against Me!, appearing on its 2005 album Searching for a Former Clarity

"Holy shit", a jocular translation by art historian Cecila Klein of the divine excrement offered in the rites of Aztec goddess Tlazolteotl

Holy Shit (You've Got to Vote), a 2016 video by Rachel Bloom

"Holy shit", a vulgar variant of the "holy cow" expression

Sacred cow

Sacred cow may refer to:

Sacred cow (idiom), something considered (perhaps unreasonably) immune from question or criticism

Holy cow (expression), a variant idiom

Cattle in religion and mythology, object of reverence, including:

Sacred bull, including ancient religions

Bull of Heaven in Sumerian mythology

Auðumbla and Gavaevodata, the primeval cows of Norse and Zoroastrian mythology

Tauroctony, the ritual bull-slaying of Mithraism

Red heifer, a sacred sacrifice in Judaism

Apis, the Egyptian sacred bull

Sacred cow (idiom)

Sacred cow is an idiom, a figurative reference to sacred cows in some religions. This idiom is thought to originate in American English, although similar or even identical idioms occur in many other languages.

The idiom is based on the popular understanding of the elevated place of cows in Hinduism and appears to have emerged in America in the late 19th century. The reverence for cows in the traditionally agrarian Vedic Hindu society stems from the reluctance to harm an animal whose milk humans consume after being weaned off the mother's milk. In Jewish tradition, there is a similar moral stigma against cooking veal (calf meat) in cows milk. A literal sacred cow or sacred bull is an actual cow or bull that is treated with sincere respect. A figurative sacred cow is a figure of speech for something considered immune from question or criticism, especially unreasonably so.

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