having a cow

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Senior Member
Is the expression to have a cow in the sense of to get upset and lose it over something only used in American English or do people in Britain, Australia etc use it/understand it as well?
  • natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I'd never heard of it before I saw your question and looked it up. Oxford Dictionaries labels it North American.
    have a cow
    North American • informal Become angry, excited, or agitated:
    don’t have a cow—it’s no big deal
    I don't watch The Simpsons! :(


    Senior Member
    Russian - Russia
    It's not common in BE
    I'd never heard of it before I saw your question and looked it up.
    I came across this phrase in The Third Twin by Ken Follett. He's a British author, but the novel is set in the US, and maybe the writer put in this phrase to make it "sound AE":

    “They[the NY Times]'re working on a big article on scientific ethics... I can't have Jones Falls [University] heading that article with an example of unethical science. Half our big donors would have a cow. We've got to do something about this." (and that's the President of the University who's talking)
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    I always thought it was BE. Perhaps because "cow" is an insulting term used towards women in some parts of Britain, I believe.

    I suppose it's derived from the extreme inconvenience that someone would face if they were pregnant with something as large as a cow.


    Senior Member
    USA English
    I cannot speak for BE, but what formerly was a common AE expression certainly doesn't derive from the British pejorative, of which, I believe, most AE speakers are ignorant.

    Many AE expressions are holdovers from the days when most of the population lived on farms, e.g. (from our dictionary)

    till or until the cows come home, for a long time;
    forever:You can keep arguing till the cows come home, but I won't change my mind.

    (I don't think you can relate the BE pejorative to that one. :))

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I've never heard of this particular bovine expression, only the feline 'having kittens' to express being extremely upset about something.
    Come to think of it, I wouldn't use it talking about a very distressed man.
    It's marked as North American slang in some sources.

    Somehow, thinking about it, I find it insulting to women.
    The word 'cow' is used as a derogative term for a woman. I can't work out what this has to do with the OP.


    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    My friends and I used "have a cow," "have a kitten," and "have a conniption fit" more or less interchangeably in the 1960s. Mat Groening, the creator of "The Simpsons" grew up in the same town at around the same time.
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