Dear indigenous Detective: over the year I have used the phrase “I said him just how the cow ate the cabbage!” which ns picked up somewhere. Now an Aussie friend desires to recognize what it means. I understand what I average when ns say it, however wonder what its beginning is. — Jo Nicholas.

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that ain't right.


That’s a good question, and also one that has, fortunately, a identify answer. That’s not constantly the case when it comes to folk sayings, few of which rotate out to be so obscure the the origin might never it is in known. I remember searching for the origin of (or even a meaningful explanation of) the 19th century expression “to rod one’s spoon in the wall” (meaning “to die”) a few years ago. Ns never uncovered it, and that phrase has actually been rattling roughly in the ago of mine mind ever since.

“To tell someone how the cow ate the cabbage” way to phone call the human the unvarnished truth, even if the person would quite not hear it. That can also mean to state one’s opinion forcefully or to “tell someone off” (“The mechanic had actually been jerking me roughly for weeks, promising that every new repair would fix the problem, therefore I lastly told him exactly how the cow ate the cabbage and also drove home”).

“How the cow ate the cabbage” is a individual saying that the southern US, most often heard in Texas and also Arkansas, and also probably dates earlier to at least the 1940s. It originates from the punchline to a joke that would, in the period, have been considered at least slightly “off-color.” below goes:

A circus had arrived in a tiny town, and one morning among the elephants managed to escape. The fugitive pachyderm made its means to the backyard garden of an elderly (and an extremely near-sighted) woman, wherein it began hungrily uprooting she cabbages through its trunk and also eating them. Alert by the apparition in she garden, the woman referred to as the police, saying, “Sheriff, there’s a huge cow in my garden pulling up mine cabbages v its tail!” “What’s the cow doing with them?” that asked, come which the woman replied, “You wouldn’t believe me if i told you!”

Hey, I never said the joke was in reality funny. In any case, the unique alliterative “to phone call someone how the cow ate the cabbage” quickly came to be a southern catchphrase an interpretation “to tell who a truth they don’t want to hear” (which, of course, is precisely what the mrs in the joke refuses to do). In the “tell who off” sense it additionally carries the rude implication of informing someone whereby they have the right to stow the issue or object of contention.

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Incidentally, in the 19th and also early 20th century, the only location where residents of tiny towns in the united state were likely to check out a actual live elephant was in just the sort of little traveling circus uncovered in this joke, whereby the elephant was the big attraction. So widespread was this small-town pachyderm-mania that by about 1835 “to check out the elephant” had become a catchphrase meaning “to endure all the there is to see.” A darker sense arose a couple of years later, in which “to have actually seen the elephant” was provided to median “to be worldly, no much longer innocent, to have actually learned a tough lesson.” By the time of the polite War, “to see the elephant” had involved mean particularly “to endure combat for the first time” and also thus to have actually learned the brutal truth about war.