Bull by the horn(s)

Posted by Serge Liberman on February 24, 2005

In Reply to: Bull by the horn(s) posted by Smokey Stover on February 24, 2005

: : : : : As part of an earlier discussion this phrase was attributed to Jerry Lee Lewis and suggested a dual meaning but was never fully discussed. Can anyone help further? SR

: : : : The OED has citations going back to the early 16th century, which would pretty much rule out Jerry Lee as the originator.

: : : I just love it when I google something and it leads me right back here. www.phrases.org.uk bulletin_board 24 messages 381.html

: : : Rock and roll in general and Jerry Lee in particular are about sex. My take on bull by the "horn" (wink, wink) and "kickin' in the barn" is that they are about sex.

: The OED definition of "to take the bull by the horns" is "to meet a difficulty with courage." True enough, except that I have always believed that it meant "to take action in the face of danger directly, head on." The actual taking of a bull by the horns certainly requires enormous courage, if you are without assistance. People have always been fascinated by the feat supposedly performed by some brave souls in Mycenean Crete, of grasping a bull's horns from in front and letting the bull catapult you up onto his back. Perhaps some phrasehead knows enough to comment informatively on this practice. SS
Reminds me of the film "Quo Vadis" in which Ursus, played as I recall by Peter Ustinov, breaks a bull's neck by taking it by the horns when pitted against it in a Roman games arena.

THat aside, however, to cite from "The Wordsworth Dictionary of Proverbs", points to three other references - Walter Scott: Old Mortality Ch.xxv, 1816; Lord Lytton: Caxtons, Pt II, Ch 1 1849; and Charles Spurgeon: John Ploughman's Talk, Ch. XI, 1869.