Come here, you pretty little cow.

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sophi979

Senior Member
Serbo-Croatian
Can "cow" be used as a term of endearment?

Here's the context: "Come here, you pretty little cow". (said by a man to his girlfriend)

Obviously, in this sentence, it's not meant to be offensive (which is further supported by the tone of the voice), but I'm interested to know whether this usage is more widespread

Thanks
 
  • Avignonais

    Senior Member
    USA
    USA, Anglophone
    No. At least in the US, where people get sensitive about their weight, we don't use cow except as an insult.

    "She is a real cow" is an insult meaning she is overweight.
     

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    "Come here, you pretty little cow" sounds extremely eccentric and unlikely. I would file this under "odd"; it does not sound idiomatic at all. I can think of no situation in which calling a woman a cow, pretty or otherwise, would be flattering or considered as a term of endearment.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    To refer to a woman as a cow does not necessarily mean she is overweight, but it is still an insult. It would suggest that, as a cow would be in the same circumstances, she is lacking in intellgence, grace, and manners.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    Can "cow" be used as a term of endearment?

    Here's the context: "Come here, you pretty little cow". (said by a man to his girlfriend)

    Obviously, in this sentence, it's not meant to be offensive (which is further supported by the tone of the voice), but I'm interested to know whether this usage is more widespread

    Thanks
    Calling a woman a "cow" is very derogatory in UK and Australia.
     

    Vinlander

    Senior Member
    Canada, American English (mostly)
    To refer to a woman as a cow does not necessarily mean she is overweight, but it is still an insult. It would suggest that, as a cow would be in the same circumstances, she is lacking in intellgence, grace, and manners.
    But size really is central to this popular analogy, the lack of intelligence, grace, and manners would be other aspects of our negative prejudice against fat people.

    The contextual point here is that in virtually all of the English speaking world labeling women as large or big would be taken as, at least, unkind (yes I know that there are fat pride movements, but they truly are marginal). To label a man as such would not be (though saying he is fat would be). For example, greeting a male friend with "Heh, big guy!" would be perfectly acceptable/safe (unless he was clearly obese and you knew that he was sensitive about that). Greeting a female friend with "Heh, big gal!," however, is not generally a good idea.

    Vinlander
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    But size really is central to this popular analogy, the lack of intelligence, grace, and manners would be other aspects of our negative prejudice against fat people.
    No, size is not "really central to this popular analogy." What is central to the analogy is the lack of intelligence, grace, and manners. When a motorist snarls "Stupid cow!!!" at the woman whose poor judgement and arrogant driving nearly causes a collision, what he or she is referring to is not the other dirver's weight -- which probably cannot be judged anyway.
     

    Avignonais

    Senior Member
    USA
    USA, Anglophone
    GWB, I disagree. I know that both the "weight" and the "lack of grace" connotations are contained today in this insult. However to determine which connotation came first (or is paramount) is like arguing over whether the chicken came first or the egg.
     

    Vinlander

    Senior Member
    Canada, American English (mostly)
    No, size is not "really central to this popular analogy." What is central to the analogy is the lack of intelligence, grace, and manners. When a motorist snarls "Stupid cow!!!" at the woman whose poor judgement and arrogant driving nearly causes a collision, what he or she is referring to is not the other dirver's weight -- which probably cannot be judged anyway.
    If the driver were a man, would the motorist snarl "Stupid bull!!"? No. Are bulls seen as any less stupid and arrogant than cows? No, if anything they are seen as more so. We are really dealing here with pragmatics more than semantics.

    Again, in my opinion, the use of the word "cow" to describe a woman inevitably brings with it an implication of fatness. Again in my opinion, if I wanted to call a woman stupid, graceless, and ill-mannered, but pull my punches a bit, I would call her a turkey (which fits the bill nicely). If I wanted to add another measure of nastiness, if I didn't want to pull my punches, I would call her a cow. The only practical logic I can see in calling that an "extra measure of nastiness" is that cowness is in some deep sense associated with fatness.

    I am not saying this just to contradict (not that I wouldn't). I am saying this to alert non-native English speakers to the pragmatic link, in my view, of the term cow (only used to describe a woman, there really isn't a perfect male equivalent) and the idea of fatness and to point out that that is the reason it is a particularly derogatory thing to call a woman. I am not making a moral argument here, just be aware that in using the word cow, you are bringing out the big guns.

    Vinlander
     

    CarolMamkny

    Senior Member
    Colombia-Spanish NY-English
    Can "cow" be used as a term of endearment?

    Here's the context: "Come here, you pretty little cow". (said by a man to his girlfriend)

    Thanks
    Well... All I know is that if my boyfriend ever calls me a "cow" (Even if he says it in a nice tone of voice) I'd get pretty mad at him. :p
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    In my version of BE, cow is always pejorative and used with adjectives like, You silly/fat/daft/lazy/ dirty little/(rotten) old cow. Also, she's a real cow (same as bitch).
     

    stargazer

    Senior Member
    Slovenia, Slovenian
    Hello sophi979

    I might be wrong but if there were more diminutives in English - like there are in Slavic languages - they probably wouldn't be perceived as offensive terms. One little suffix would make a world of difference. You would probably react differently if someone called you "krava" (=cow) or "kravica" (=little cow). And, of course, lovers' talk is so specific and unique, and in this context you would immediately know that "little cow" is a term of endearment shared between you and your lover.

    Take care ;)
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    GWB, I disagree. I know that both the "weight" and the "lack of grace" connotations are contained today in this insult. However to determine which connotation came first (or is paramount) is like arguing over whether the chicken came first or the egg.
    I have certainly heard thin, and even downright bony, women referred to as "cows". Their weight had nothing to do with the insult. Instead, the comment was based on their rude, self-absorbed behavior.
     

    Vinlander

    Senior Member
    Canada, American English (mostly)
    Hello sophi979

    I might be wrong but if there were more diminutives in English - like there are in Slavic languages - they probably wouldn't be perceived as offensive terms. One little suffix would make a world of difference. You would probably react differently if someone called you "krava" (=cow) or "kravica" (=little cow).
    This may be the case in your language, but to my ear and in this context, "little cow" is an oxymoron. The diminutive might apply to other terms like little bitch or little vixen. But it doesn't apply to cow.

    Vinlander
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    If the driver were a man, would the motorist snarl "Stupid bull!!"? No. Are bulls seen as any less stupid and arrogant than cows? No, if anything they are seen as more so. We are really dealing here with pragmatics more than semantics.
    I cannot imagine that you are unaware that insults are frequently chosen based on the sex of the person to whom they are addressed, and they are not always amenable to a simple change of the word's gender.

    A bitch is a female dog. But you and I both know that if you asked for what someone might call the male equivalent of a woman who was a "bitch", no one will say "why, he is a dog of course!" So it is with cow. A man who behaved the same way might be called a swine, however.
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    Well... All I know is that if my boyfriend ever calls me a "cow" (Even if he says it in a nice tone of voice) I'd get pretty mad at him. :p
    If any man dares to say that to me, well, let's say he'd better be prepared :D
     

    stargazer

    Senior Member
    Slovenia, Slovenian
    This may be the case in your language, but to my ear and in this context, "little cow" is an oxymoron. The diminutive might apply to other terms like little bitch or little vixen. But it doesn't apply to cow.

    Vinlander
    It would be a bit unusual even in my language but if I heard two love birds using it I would guess that it was not said to be offensive. An oxymoron or not, I wrote "little cow" to point out the difference between a word and its diminutive form because I cannot express it with a non-existing suffix.
    By the way, we also use "cow" as an offensive term for women.
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    You little cow is what a mother might say to an ill-behaved daughter. It is never an endearment.
    The male equivalent of cow in the sense of bitch is swine or bastard.
    A woman called a cow, I agree, may be really quite slim or skinny, like the hungry cows in Pharoah's dream, but a fat cow is an obese female.
     

    GreenWhiteBlue

    Senior Member
    USA - English
    Of course, terms of endearment do not always translate well. Isn't "cabbage" a term of endearment in French? Yet how odd it seems in English! And while calling a man "duck" may be a fond term in English, to call a man "pato" in Spanish is very insulting...
     

    nichec

    Senior Member
    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    Of course, terms of endearment do not always translate well. Isn't "cabbage" a term of endearment in French? Yet how odd it seems in English! And while calling a man "duck" may be a fond term in English, to call a man "pato" in Spanish is very insulting...
    Yes, "cabbage" (mon chou chou) is a term of endearment in French, along with many other strange things :D
     

    Vinlander

    Senior Member
    Canada, American English (mostly)
    I cannot imagine that you are unaware that insults are frequently chosen based on the sex of the person to whom they are addressed, and they are not always amenable to a simple change of the word's gender.
    And I cannot imagine that you are unaware that insults are not descriptions. The fact that cow is applied to thin women simply shows that insults are usually applied liberally and that cow is so hurtful that it would be applied even when it wouldn't describe the person.

    A bitch is a female dog. But you and I both know that if you asked for what someone might call the male equivalent of a woman who was a "bitch", no one will say "why, he is a dog of course!"
    Exactly, they would call him a bastard, regardless of the certainty of his parentage. If his mother called him that in a fit of anger she would not be assumed to be revealing some secret. One could, of course, call a man a bitch, but that would have a quite different meaning and one that would be nastier than calling a woman that. If yo think I'm gonna be yo gramma baitch, yo got another think cummin, sucka. One of the reasons that calling him that is taken to be so serious is because you are equating him with a woman. I am not trying to raise anyones consciousness here, but the way that male and female insults are not simple mirror images of each other says a lot about the underside of the relations between men and women. Bitch is a bad word (most people do not even use it to describe a female dog), dog is not or at last not nearly as.

    So it is with cow. A man who behaved the same way might be called a swine, however.
    Swine seems too formal to me, it is more likely that he would be called a pig. But in either case it is noteworthy that they refer to both males and females of the species. If I were to call a man a boar (a male swine) that would hardly count as an insult at all, if I were to call a woman a sow (a female swine) it would be as bad as calling her a cow.

    Anyway, that is my last word on this matter.

    Vinlander
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Dog is, or used to be, used in America for an ugly woman. If you called a man a boar, he would think you were speling it bore, or in South Africa, boer, which might annoy him if he were a rooinek. A pig can be used for a man or a woman, and means that they are gluttonous, dirty in their habits, or extremely impolite. Pig does not convey the deviousness, treachery or immoral conduct of swine. Sow would never normally be used for a woman except as an unusual metaphor of doubtful meaning.
    Admittedly, swine is of high register, if insulting epithets can be said to be of high register, and would not normally be in the vocabulary of, say, a skin-head in bovver boots. She's a bitch is often used by male homosexuals about those of the same sex and orientation of whom they disapprove or pretend to disapprove.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Can "cow" be used as a term of endearment?

    Here's the context: "Come here, you pretty little cow". (said by a man to his girlfriend)

    Obviously, in this sentence, it's not meant to be offensive (which is further supported by the tone of the voice), but I'm interested to know whether this usage is more widespread

    Thanks
    Sophi979, I bet you never thought you'd be starting such a heated discussion!

    To answer your question directly: no, the use of "pretty little cow" for a girlfriend is *not* widespread.

    As you will have gathered, anyone who used the term "cow" to his girlfriend would be in great danger of physical damage...

    Loob
     

    AngelEyes

    Senior Member
    English - United States
    To answer your question directly: no, the use of "pretty little cow" for a girlfriend is *not* widespread.
    Loob
    Loob said it just right. Don't use it in any form when attributing it to a lady.

    The male equivalent, in my opinion, is "a dirty pig." He doesn't have to be fat to be one, and he doesn't have to be filthy.

    But there are still lots of them out there.

    AngelEyes
     

    Arrius

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    Of course, terms of endearment do not always translate well. Isn't "cabbage" a term of endearment in French? Yet how odd it seems in English! And while calling a man "duck" may be a fond term in English, to call a man "pato" in Spanish is very insulting...
    In fact, at least in London, one frequently hears ducks more often than duck as a friendly form of address when talking to a stranger as a synonym of love. It is possible that it is not the plural of duck at all but from the Latin dux (leader) and an alternative to guv (abbr. of governor),akin to the use of French chef, Sp. jefe or S.A. Dutch baas, all used under similar circumstances. This is quite distinct from the exclamation of amazement: "Well, luvver (love a) duck!
    However, from Roman, possibly even Grecian, times there has been a tradition of insulting those we are fond of and wish well. A good example is the Roman wedding where the happy couple were showered by the guests with abuse and the bride sometimes submitted to barbaric procedures that I would blush to describe. The idea was to make the bridal pair less of an object of jealousy to the gods, so that these would leave them in peace. Hence, in the same spirit, the French chou, and the American pumpkin. My mother, although very fond of me, would sometimes called me hair-ball (a revolting ball of fur that pussy coughs up)! In Hitchcock's rather mediocre "Suspicion", Cary Grant calls Anne Todd "monkey-face" throughout, despite being enamoured of her to the extent of contemplating suicide on her behalf. She was, in fact, a remarkably beautiful English rose.
    Of course, insults are more often meant to be taken as such.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Just to throw another bone into the stew here: if I wanted to insult a woman who was large/fat and ungainly I would quite likely call her a ... heifer. Which seems odd, given that heifers are generally smaller than full-grown cows.
     
    In my version of BE, cow is always pejorative and used with adjectives like, You silly/fat/daft/lazy/ dirty little/(rotten) old cow. Also, she's a real cow (same as bitch).

    Same here. I often hear cow used in BE with no indication of size/fatness whatsoever. It just seems less-like-a-swearword version of a bitch, exactly as Arrius suggests.

    Maybe it's a BE/AE thing?

    And no, I can't imagine cow used as a term of endearment. In fact, I can't think of a single word for a grown-up domesticated animal that can be used like that in English. They are mostly insults, apart perhaps from horse words which are not used at all (excepting stallion, which some males might take as a compliment).

    She's a bitch.
    His girlfriend is a real dog.
    They are sooo catty!!
    Sheepish behaviour.
    Stupid cow!
    Don't be a pig!
    Such a swine.
    Like a bull in a china shop.
    Mulish stubbornness.

    ...and so on.

    This contrasts wildly with my native language in which diminutive animal words are frequently used as terms of endearment (but to be fair, mostly ones for baby animals which are also used as endearments in English, however, only towards children).
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    Some of these are culturally defined.

    If you called a cop a "pig" in the 1960's you were bad mouthing him.

    My Chinese (Shanghainese) room mate in college could not understand that. In his experience pigs were clean and docile. They were never put in muddy pigsties but in clear pools. So to him a "pig" was no pejorative at all.


    All that aside, I have heard male chauvinist pigs refer to large breasted women as "cows", a clear reference to the udder. So I would think that there is hardly a woman alive that would be flattered by calling her a "cow".
     
    If you called a cop a "pig" in the 1960's you were bad mouthing him.

    [/COLOR]
    I think you still do (at least in BE).

    And a resounding yes to being culturally defined. In Polish, the pigs (=the police) are the dogs (and the word dog can be used as a generalised insult for a male as well), while pig as an insult is more likely to be applied to a messy person than a greedy one.

    The only pejorative use of dog in English is the one for an ugly woman, and I would suspect it has non-English roots.
     

    katie_here

    Senior Member
    England/English
    The way we refer to "cow" is the same as "bitch" We would call a woman a "cow" if she was being sly and nasty and downright rude. I'd be highly offended if anyone called me a "cow" no matter how nice they said it.

    Funnily enough, the male version doesn't mean the same thing. To call a man a "bull" which I've not really heard, but would imply something along the lines of "bull headed" stubborn.
     

    Packard

    Senior Member
    USA, English
    In India the cows are sacred. What would the meaning be there? Or would it be an insult to the cow?
     
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