When the cows come home

Posted by ESC on December 10, 2004

In Reply to: When the cows come home posted by Smokey Stover on December 10, 2004

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : In Portuguese there is a current expression in these terms: "Deixe os patos passar". It means word by word: Let the ducks go by or pass along.

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : This is an ironical expression, whereby someone suggests that something will happen but certainly in a time that will never really come. The origin is probably from a fable in which a king promises to release a young man from death if he is able to tell him a never-ending story. And the astute young man tells a tale of ducks passing along in a stream. One duck follows the other, and the ducks never stop coming. So the story never reaches the end. Waiting for all the ducks to pass means waiting for ever.

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : Any equivalent in English?

: : : : : : : : : : : : : : Jose Carlos

: : : : : : : : : : : : : Til the cows come home?

: : : : : : : : : : : : I'm not sure how the expression "'til the cows come home," but I can assure you that they do come home, and every day unless there's some impediment. (The cow in question may be ill, or may be fresh, or may be lost, or may be locked out by some obstacle. If you don't know what a fresh cow is, apply here for information.) SS

: : : : : : : : : : : Excuse, please, lege "how the expression . . . is used." SS

: : : : : : : : : : "When hell freezes over" and "when pigs fly" are common phrases used emphatically (and only in informal contexts) to mean "That will never happen!"

: : : : : : : : : Waiting for Godot. Based on the Samuel Beckett play by the same name. See SparkNotes at www.sparknotes.com/ lit/godot/

: : : : : : : : WAITING FOR GODOT - "To wait endlessly, and in futility, for something to happen." Refers to a Samuel Beckett play (1952, translated in English, 1954*). "Two tramps meet in a bare, unidentifiable place. They are waiting for Godot, who sends word that he is coming, but does not.they agree to leave and meet the next day. But stand still. There is no sense of progress, nor any understanding of who Godot is, or why anyone would one to wait for him." Example: "These days, waiting for someone to reignite that rock-and-roll explosion - as Elvis did in 1954, as the Beatles did in 1963 - has become something like waiting for Godot." Don McLeese, New York Times Book Review, Dec. 28, 1986. "Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Allusions" by Elizabeth Webber and Mike Feinsilber (Merriam-Webster, Springfield, Mass., 1999). * Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, says Beckett, who was Irish, wrote the play in French, his second language.

: : : : : : : Til the cows come home; Meaning a long and indefinite time.
: : : : : : : This phrase was paraphrased by Groucho Marx in Duck Soup. 'I could dance with you til the cows come home. Better still, I'll dance with the cows and you come home.' From IdiomSite
: : : : : : : 'Pigs will fly' is used in a different situation. It's not 'til pigs fly' but usually 'and pigs will fly'. It's often a riposte to some over-ambitious targets set by corporate mangement.
: : : : : : : 'All orders will be completed by Tuesday.'
: : : : : : : 'And pigs will fly!'

: : : : : :
: : : : : : Back to cows - maybe makes more sense if you think not of Smokey Stover's lowing herds winding slowly, but instead of plains homesteads and men on horses. Cattle on the range would remain there sometimes more than a year until rounded up and brought home by cowboys or jackaroos . . . No idea when or even if they will make it back.

: : : : : Say, that reminds me: Smokey, what is a "fresh cow"?

: : : : Wile waiting for Smokey to tell you about the fresh cow, I just realized it's not only American or Australian range cattle (although I expect the phrase is American in origin) that have a "homecoming". Remembering my salad years in a Swiss village: the cows lived in winter under the farm-house (providing central heating); grazed in the fields and forests around the village in spring and autumn, and went up to the alpine pastures for the summer. "The cows coming home" was an autumn village festival, a big local (not for tourists) annual event with song, procession, traditional dress, much wine-bibbing and the cows gaily decorated with branches and flowers. It was one of the most cow-centered societies I've ever known, and famously in the village a foreign couple had even been refused citizenship on the grounds that they had complained about the nightly sound of cow-bells outside their house.

: : : : Another riposte for something that will take a long time to happen, is "so will Christmas".

: : : Thank you all of you. Aren't we largely indebted to animals anyway, even in our everyday language?
: : : Can I go ahead of Smokey Stover? The Webster says a fresh cow is one who has recently given birth to a calf.
: : : JC

: : Sorry, whoever it was up there, but "when pigs fly" is used in the U.S. with the same meaning as "when hell freezes over." --rb

: Thanks to Keith and Brian for their views bringing the cows into better focus. Yes, my statement about cows coming home was parochial and narrow. Cows in the open ranges of the western United States between the Civil War and the turn of the century often went where they wanted for as much as a year at a time. When they were rounded up, however, where they went was certainly not "home," notwithstanding the cowboy song promising the little dogies that Wyoming would be their new home. I knew, somewhere in my mind, that those lovely Brown Swiss cattle herded by Heidi and her compatriots lived a life very unlike that of an American dairy cow. No knowledge here of how British cows live, although both Jerseys and Guernseys, as well as Ayrshires, originated on what is now British soil. In the woodcuts of Thomas Bewick cows are depicted wandering around pretty freely, although Bewick lived long after enclosure had taken place.
: Yes, Jose Carlos, a fresh cow, at least in the U.S., is one which has just given birth, so-called because its milk supply is freshened up, that is, it comes into milk, or comes back into milk. If you say a heifer has freshened, it has come into milk because it is now a mother.
: The point of the thread has nowt to do with cows, of course, but I am now pretty curious as to when and where the expression "til the cows come home" originated, and if it really means never. SS

I lived on a farm. Around about dusk, the cows would come down from the fields to be milked. And the chickens would come home to roost.