Holy cow (expression)

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For other uses, see Holy cow.

"Holy cow!" (and similar) is an exclamation of surprise used mostly in the United States, Canada, Australia and England. It is a minced oath or euphemism for "Holy Christ!"

Holy Cow! dates to at least 1905.[1] The earliest known appearance of the phrase 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 Hindoo oath having to do with the vain use of the name of the milk producer. These profane exclamations, "holy cow!" and, "By the stomach of the eternal cow!"" [2] The phrase was used by baseball players at least as early as 1913[3] and probably much earlier.[4] 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.[5]

From the Dictionary of American Slang (1960):[6]

Expressions such as "Holy buckets!", "Holy underwear!", etc. also employ a play-on-words, "holy" implying "riddled with holes".

Paul Beale (1985), however, in revising Eric Partridge's A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day cites a different origin:[7]

"Holy cow!" became associated with several baseball broadcasters. Harry Caray, who was the broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals (1945-1969), Oakland Athletics (1970), Chicago White Sox (1971-1981), and Chicago Cubs (1982-1997), began using it early in his career, in order to prevent himself from lapsing into vulgarity. He explained the details in his autobiography, which was co-written with Bob Verdi and titled Holy Cow! New York Yankees shortstop and announcer Phil Rizzuto was also well known for the phrase. When the Yankees honored "Scooter" Rizzuto decades after he retired, 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 phrase may have originated with (and certainly was introduced to the baseball lexicon by) reporter and broadcaster Halsey Hall, who worked in Minneapolis 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.[8]

The cartoon strip Common Grounds was originally titled Holey Crullers, a play on this catchphrase.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Brown, Peter Jensen. "Holy Cow! Hinduism and Baseball". Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  2. ^ The Minneapolis Journal. November 24, 1905. 
  3. ^ Popick, Barry. "The Big Apple". Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Brown, Peter Jensen. "Holy Cow! Hinduism and Baseball". Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  5. ^ Brown, Peter Jensen. "Holy Cow! Hinduism and Baseball". Retrieved 15 May 2014. 
  6. ^ Wentworth, Harold; Flexner, Stuart B. (1960). Dictionary of American Slang. New York: Crowell. p. 264. OCLC 318952. [verification needed]
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Dickson, Paul (1999). The New Dickson Baseball Dictionary. San Diego: Harcourt Brace. p. 254. ISBN 0-15-600580-8.