In Reply to: Having a cow posted by ESC on September 10, 2008 at 00:15:
: : I was wondering if you have any idea as to what the origin of "Having a cow" is? "Having a cow" meaning to get worked up over something or upset. Thanks!
: Maybe -- and this is a wild guess -- it is an exaggeration of this:
: "TO HAVE KITTENS - For anyone to confess 'nearly to have had kittens' is a dramatic way of admitting how anxious and scared he had been. For us it is just a metaphor, and no one would dream of taking it literally. Yet the phrase itself goes back to times when women were really worried that, instead of giving birth to a child, they would bring forth kittens.
: It was an age when people believed in witches and the mysterious influence of cats, which extended even to their sex life. A black cat, for example, that turned up at a wedding was taken as an omen of good luck and of a fruited union.
: A superstition, once prevalent among Scottish people, may be directly responsible for the phrase. This assumed that a woman could conceive kittens, if - unknowingly - she ate any food on which cats had ejected their semen.
: In medieval times women, suffering agonizing pain in pregnancy, were assured by witches that its cause was not the growing child but kittens inside their womb, and that only a magical potion could destroy the brood and thereby alleviate their suffering. As late as 1654, a woman tried in a Scottish court for attempting to procure as abortion, pleaded in excuse that she had done so because she had 'cats in her bellie.'." From "How Did It Begin?" by R. Brasch (Pocket Books, New York, 1966).
My reservation about this is similar to the Creationists' argument against evolution. Where are the intermediate stages? The missing pieces? Perhaps they just went underground, or some place other than where I lived. I never heard about women having kittens at all, and then suddenly women were having a cow. Until someone stands up to confess that they were the cause for the vogue of having a cow, we'll probably not find out if the original inventor of the phrase coined it out of the blue, or had heard of having kittens and couldn't remember which animal it was that women were having.
Either way, the expression is apt, since the groaning and moaning and carrying on is what we might perhaps expect in a woman who was trying to deliver a cow.