have a cow
have a cow
- to become angry or excited about something.
- to overreact in an annoyed or outraged manner.
- to express anger, annoyance, or frustration at something.
- to have a fit of anger or lose one’s temper.
- to blow up over something.
- to get hysterical over an issue.
- The boss had a cow when he saw the mess they had made.
- My parents will have a cow when they find out I crashed the car.
- Relax! You’re having a cow over nothing.
- Stop having a cow and calm down.
- The coach had a cow at the team for losing the game.
- My friend had a cow because I was late to pick her up.
- The CEO had a cow at the board of directors meeting today.
- My roommate had a cow when I spilled coffee on the carpet.
The idiom “have a cow” means to become extremely angry, upset, or agitated about something. It originated in the early- to mid-20th-century United States.
In the early 1900s, “cow” was slang for a fit of anger or rage. For example, “He went into a cow” meant he flew into a rage. This seems to come from the idea of a cow as a large, temperamental animal. The idiom “have a cow” emerged as a colorful way to say someone became hysterical or threw a tantrum.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the phrase frequently appeared in newspapers, films, radio shows, and other media. For example, a 1937 article said, “When the boss found out, he had a cow.” A 1941 newspaper reported that a group “nearly had cows” when plans fell through. These uses helped establish “have a cow” as an idiomatic expression in American English.
The idiom gained more mainstream popularity in the post-World War II era. Its usage increased dramatically, appearing in books, magazines, television, and movies. For instance, a 1950 novel said, “I’d have a cow if I found out you’d been tippling.” A 1963 film featured the line, “If I catch him in here again, I’ll have a cow!” These early popular uses in the media helped cement “have a cow” as a widely understood idiom.
By the 1960s and 1970s, “have a cow” was firmly embedded in American idiomatic speech. It continues today as a colorful way to indicate that someone has become extremely angry, upset, or agitated about something. The idiom is most common in the United States, though similar phrases have emerged in other English-speaking cultures. “Have a cow” remains a quintessential example of how idioms develop and spread through a language.