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The meaning and origin of the expression: Chew the cud

Chew the cud

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Chew the cud'?

To 'chew the cud', in a literal sense, is for ruminant animals to masticate regurgitated food. In a metaphorical sense it is, for humans, to chat in an aimless manner.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Chew the cud'?

Chew the cudAlternative versions of this are 'chew the fat', 'chew the rag' etc. Cud is the part digested food that ruminant animals, notably cows, bring back into their mouths from their first stomach, to chew at leisure. The image is of slow and aimless mastication and the allusive use of the phrase refers to that. 'Rumination', meaning slow, pensive thought, also derives from the same imagery.

In its literal sense there are references to chewing the cud' going back to Aelfric, 'De veteri et de novo testamento', circa 1000. The first recorded use of it in the allusive 'chatting' sense is in Henry Fielding's The History of Tom Jones, 1749:

"Having left her a little while to chew the cud, if I may use that expression, on these first tidings."

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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