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Where did the phrase "How now brown cow?" originate?

I saw it in the preview for the movie "The Avengers" and bought the movie (not rented) just on principle. To my dismay there was no explination of the phrase, and since then I hear it constantly. So uhh, what's up with this one?

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  • 1 decade ago
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    First, the MEANING of the expression is usually taken as a lighthearted way of saying "What's going on?" or "What's next?" BUT that may not have a whole lot to do with its origins. It may be a silly or NONSENSE saying.

    Captain Moroni gave us the wikipedia answer. It may be correct --or more likely, PARTLY correct-- but unfortunately, the article does not gave any source or evidence. (You'll see the same explanation, verbatim, in a number of places on the web, but they all seem to just be copying wikipedia... and none I can find provide a source.)

    The FIRST part --about the "elocution exercise for rounded vowels"-- seems likely, and is apparently borrowed from this clip from the "phrase finders" site:

    It isn't clear when this phrase was coined or where. It was certainly known in the USA by 1942, although is probably earlier. It 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."

    http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/188800.html

    But note there is nothing here at all about a nursery rhyme. And neither wikipedia, not anyone else I've found has cited a specific one.

    Of course, the simple expression "brown cow" appears in many places, for obvious reasons (the rhyming sound and the fact that such creatures exist!) But I know of NO nursery rhyme with the line, "How now brown cow?"

    (The closest PHRASE I've seen is "Moo moo, brown cow. Have you any milk?" in the familiar rhyme "Baa, baa, black sheep" But that verse seems to have been added much more recently, perhaps the second half of the 20th century. I first heard it in the Raffi version of the 1980s.)

    Frankly, having used NUMEROUS such expressions for drills in choirs over the years (and now learning a whole new set through my children), I wouldn't be surprised if, like most of these others, had NO roots beyond someone just dreaming it up for such a drill.

    Back to the "meaning" -- "What's going on?" I know no particular reason to think that existed before the phrase began to be used as an elocution drill. In other words, it is likely enought that this started out as a silly, nonsense phrase coined simply to drill the sound (as the phrases.org article suggests). THEN people began use it in conversation (where it still is rather silly).

    BEER? probably not...

    If you look for more info on this, you may also find some who claim it originally had something to do with a type of beer. Even the article cited above mentions the old Scottish expression "brown cow" as a humorous way of referring to a beer barrel. Actually, checking the reference, I'm not positive the expression was "jocular" -- that may just by the nature of the sentence used in the example. (So, if we're trying to argue that "how now brown cow?" is related to beer because the question and Scottish expression are "jocular", that seems rather thin.)

    But there is NO evidence this has any connection to the familiar question. And since "brown cow" itself is simple and common enough, there's no real need to suppose this connection.

    It appears, though, that other sources HAVE made a bit out of the beer expression. But they seem to muddle even what we know, and argue for a connection without giving any clear evidence. Here are a couple of examples of this apparent mistake:

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=How...

    http://www.livestockweekly.com/papers/03/05/15/scp...

    (If the only "brown cow" drink you know is a root beer float, this American concoction, apparently of the 20th century, seems an even less likely source of the expression.

    http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind... )

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  • 4 years ago

    How Now Brown Cow

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  • 5 years ago

    This Site Might Help You.

    RE:

    Where did the phrase "How now brown cow?" originate?

    I saw it in the preview for the movie "The Avengers" and bought the movie (not rented) just on principle. To my dismay there was no explination of the phrase, and since then I hear it constantly. So uhh, what's up with this one?

    Source(s): phrase quot brown quot originate: https://tinyurl.im/xtzq5
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  • 1 decade ago

    "How now brown cow" is a phrase used in elocution teaching to demonstrate rounded vowel sounds. The original words came from a nursery rhyme from the 19th century.

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  • Janice
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    For the best answers, search on this site https://shorturl.im/smm2J

    Well. the fact is that a lot of meats that most people aren't familiar with eating really do taste like chicken, and since chicken is a meat that most people have eaten, it was a good way to describe how the less eaten meats taste. For example, armadillo, frog, alligator and turtle really are similar to chicken. Hence, tastes like chicken. I agree, though, that it is used too much and about things that have nothing to with the phrase itself.

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  • 1 decade ago

    Its comedic line from a Shakespeare play... tho I don't remember which one... I think its from:

    A Mid Summer Night's Dream

    Whether it was used to teach elocution or not I think was decided later... probably because LOTS of Shakespeare could be used to teach elocution. He liked word-play didn't he?

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  • 5 years ago

    I think the Shakespeare answer is correct, but I do not know which play inclluded it. He probably used it to help with diction.

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    It's the phrase lovingly said to every person who has ever been executed. Either through stoning, shooting, electric chair, etc.....

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  • Anonymous
    1 decade ago

    What does it mean, and would you ever actually say it in a conversation as a response?

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  • 1 decade ago

    I guess it came from some nursery rhyme from early 19th century.

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