Sacred cow (idiom)

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Sacred cow is an idiom, a figurative reference to cattle in religion and mythology. A figurative sacred cow is a figure of speech for something considered immune from question or criticism, especially unreasonably so.[1][better source needed] This idiom is thought to originate in American English,[2][better source needed] 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.[3][better source needed] 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. [2] A literal sacred cow or sacred bull is an actual cow or bull that is treated with sincere respect.[citation needed]

One writer has suggested that there is an element of paradox in the concept of respect for a sacred cow, as illustrated in a comment about the novelist V. S. Naipaul: "V. S. Naipaul ... has the ability to distinguish the death of an ordinary ox, which, being of concern to no one, may be put quickly out of its agony, from that of a sacred cow, which must be solicitously guarded so that it can die its agonizing death without any interference."[4]

In popular culture[edit]

The motto of the satirical magazine The Realist was "Irreverence is our only sacred cow".[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "the definition of sacred cow".
  2. ^ a b "'Sacred cow' - the meaning and origin of this phrase". The Phrase Finder. Retrieved 2010-09-10.
  3. ^ Martin, Gary. "'Sacred cow' - the meaning and origin of this phrase". Phrasefinder.
  4. ^ Pollack, David (1992). Reading against culture: ideology and narrative in the Japanese novel. Cornell University Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-8014-8035-5.
  5. ^ DeMott, Benjamin; Berger, Arthur Asa (2003). Supergrow: essays and reports on imagination in America (reprint ed.). Transaction Publishers. pp. 72–73. ISBN 0-7658-0521-9.

External links[edit]