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Wild oats

Posted by ESC on November 13, 2000

In Reply to: Question????? posted by stephanie on November 13, 2000

: My husband and I do not agree on the meaning of the phrase 'to sow your wild oats' we can't find it in the list, could you please help?

To me, "to sow one's wild oats" refers to the foolish, often reckless behavior of the young -- fast cars, fast women (and men); alcohol and/or drugs. Sometimes there's a "rite of passage" connotation to the phrase -- a young person (most often a male) is expected to have a wild period before "settling down."

SOW ONE'S WILD OATS - "The wild oat (Avena fatua) is a common tall plant that looks like its relative the cereal plant oat, but is really a pernicious weed that infests the planting fields of Europe, and is difficult to eradicate.The wild oat's uselessness has been known since ancient times and for almost as long we have had the expression to 'sow wild oats,' 'to conduct oneself foolishly,' to sow weedseed instead of good grain. The expression has been traced back to the Roman comic Plautus in 194 B.C. and was probably used before him. It usually refers to a young man frittering his time away in fruitless dissipation, or to the prolific sexual activities of a young man, and is always said indulgently of the young. Rarely, the expression is used in the singular, with a prudish young man who sows 'his one wild oat.' In the 16th and 17th century dissolute or wild young men were called 'wild oats." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997)