Holy cow (expression)

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Sign on the side of the Chicago Varnish Company Building depicting Harry Caray, circa 1998

"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 Hindu 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 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]

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:[4]

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 (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.[6]

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.[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 cartoon strip Common Grounds was originally titled Holey Crullers, a play on this catchphrase.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  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. [verification needed]
  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.