Word Of The Month: “Holy Cow”

David Zapatka

Baseball spring training is upon us. The Cactus and Grapefruit leagues are in session. The smell of spring is in the air. Holy Cow! The Cubs are the defending World Series champions! 2017 is really going to be a historic preseason.

Anyone remotely familiar with baseball remembers Harry Caray’s enthusiastic “Holy Cow!” Chicago Cub fans have fond memories of the “Mayor of Rush Street” as he announced their games from 1982 to 1997. Of course, before the Cubs, Harry Caray was the Chicago White Sox announcer from 1971 to 1981. But his longest sports announcing stint was with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1945 to 1969.

Holy Cow is this month’s word(s) of the month. This is an informal interjection used mainly in the United States, Canada, Australia and England to express surprise or excitement. How this comes from the words “holy” meaning exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness, divine and devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity and “cow” meaning the mature female of various, usually large animals or a domestic bovine animal regardless of sex or age, is interesting to explore.

Dating back to around 1905, Holy Cow! is a minced oath or euphemism for “Holy Christ!” which is offensive to some people. The earliest known appearance of the phrase was in a tongue-in-cheek letter to the editor of a local paper where a cow-lover wrote to protest against a certain variety of Hindu oath having to do with the vain use of the name of the milk producer. The phrase came into use by baseball players sometime before 1913. Speculation is that the phrase may have been adopted as a means to avoid penalties for using obscene or indecent language and may have been based on a general awareness of the holiness of cows in some religious traditions. Similar euphemisms Holy Buckets! Holy cats! and Holy Mike! were also in use at one time but have fallen away in favor of Holy Cow!

Holy Cow! was the basis for the Batman exclamations Holy Alter Ego!, Holy Barracuda!, Holy Ravioli!, Holy Houdini! and hundreds more. These exclamations were accompanied by loud sounds while the exclamations were flashed across our television screens in the ‘60s. Much later, the cartoon strip Common Grounds which was originally titled Holey Crullers, a play on the euphemism, Holy Cow!, became a six-issue comic book limited series created by writer Troy Hickman and published by Top Cow Productions in 2004. The series examined the life of superheroes and villains in and around a chain of coffee shops called Common Grounds.

We have all had Holy Cow! experiences in our lives; “Holy Cow! That guy nearly hit me when he cut into my lane!” “Holy cow! Did you see what I saw?!” Share your Holiest of Cows and any word you may like to share with our readers along with your insights and comments to [email protected]