How now brown cow?


What's the meaning of the phrase 'How now brown cow?'?

A nonsense phrase with no real meaning as such, although it also sometimes used as a jovial greeting.

What's the origin of the phrase 'How now brown cow?'?

This phrase used to be used in elocution teaching to demonstrate rounded vowel sounds. It isn’t clear when it was coined or where. It was certainly known in the USA by 1942, although is probably earlier. The expression appears in an item in the Maryland newspaper The Capital, in February 1942:

“Laird Cregar, now contributing his booming voice to ‘Ten Gentlemen from West Point’: explains how he got it. When he first tried out for the Pasadena Community Playhouse his voice wouldn’t carry past the front rows. Coach Belle Kennedy had him declaim How, Now, Brown Cow? and The Rain in Spain Still Stains – over and over.”

The term Brown Cow had previously been used in Scotland as a jocular name for a beer barrel. Allan Ramsay, used it in his The gentle shepherd, a Scots pastoral comedy, 1725:

” The auld anes think it best With the brown cow to clear their een.”

Trend of how now brown cow ? in printed material over time

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.

Gary Martin

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.