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Sacred cow (idiom)

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Sacred cow is an idiom, a figurative reference to cattle in religion and mythology. A 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, 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.[2][3][4][5]

A literal sacred cow or sacred bull is an actual cow or bull that is treated with sincere respect.

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."[6]

In popular culture[edit]

The motto of the satirical magazine The Realist was "Irreverence is our only sacred cow".[7] Discordians use the identically pronounced symbol the "sacred chao".[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "sacred cow meaning". Theidioms.com.
  2. ^ Martin, Gary. "Meaning and origin of the phrase sacred cow". Phrasefinder.
  3. ^ Uttara Kennedy, Arvind Sharma and Clive J.C. Philips (2018). "The Sheltering of Unwanted Cattle, Experiences in India and Implications for Cattle Industries Elsewhere". Animals. 8 (5): 64. doi:10.3390/ani8050064. PMC 5981275. PMID 29701646.
  4. ^ Marvin Harris. India's sacred cow (PDF).
  5. ^ Dr Gloria Pungetti, Dr Anna Maclvor. "Preliminary Literature Review On Sacred Species" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 July 2021. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
  6. ^ Pollack, David (1992). Reading against culture: ideology and narrative in the Japanese novel. Cornell University Press. p. 185. ISBN 978-0-8014-8035-5.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Cusack, Carole (January 2013). "Discordianism". researchgate.net. Research Gate. Retrieved 22 December 2023.

External links[edit]