Holy cow

Posted by ESC on October 21, 2001

In Reply to: Holy cow posted by Michael on October 21, 2001

: : : : does anyone know where the saying "holy cow" originated? and why?

: : : This is all I know on the subject: "Holy smoke!, 1889; Holy cats!, Holy mackerel!, both 1803; Holy Moses!, 1906, Holy cow!, 1942." From I Hear America Talking: An Illustrated History of American Words and Phrases by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).

: : From the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 2, H-O :
: : "Holy cow!" . . . Equiv. to "Holy cats!" both being euphemisms for "Holy Christ!" . . . Although this term is considered to be very popular among teenagers, no self-respecting, red-blooded teenager would dare use such a weak oath. It is, however, the common oath and popular exclam. put into the mouth of teenagers by all script writers, and is universally heard on radio, television, and in movies. It was first popularized by the "Corliss Archer" series of short stories, television programs, and movies, which attempted to show the humorous, homey side of teenage life.

: : Paul Beale , however, in revising Eric Partridge's Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day cites a different origin:
: : The orig. 'Captain Marvel' and 'Batman' oaths, 'holy (something harmless),' were in turn spoofed in later C20 by whatever seemed relevant to the situation: Nigel Rees, in "Very Interesting . . . But Stupid: Catchphrases from the World of Entertainment," 1980, instances holy flypaper!, holy cow!, holy felony!, holy geography!, holy schizophrenia! holy haberdashery!, etc., and adds, 'The prefix 'holy' to any exclamation was particularly the province of Batman and [his boy assistant] Robin, characters created by Bob Kane and featured in best-selling comic books for over thirty years before they were portrayed by Adam West and Burt Ward in the TV film series.'

: I asked a naturalized American citizen who was born and raised in India if saying "Holy Cow" in India was akin to saying "Jesus Christ" in America. In other words, what it blasphemy. He never did tell me whether it was profanity or not, but he did explain why the cow was considered sacred.
: Bear with me as I try and remember what he said.
: He told me something to the effect of the cows taking the place of human mothers that had died during childbirth. They, essentially became mid-wives. That was why he said they were considered holy.
: I still don't know if the statement "Holy cow" is meant to be a sort of racial slur or not. Anybody have any ideas?

No, it's not a racial slur. I doubt if whoever first started saying "Holy cow" even knew about the sacred cows of India.