Most people are familiar with the phrase “’til the cows come home,” but what do cows coming home have to do with any situation you might find yourself in today?
In today’s world, this phrase means “for a very long, indefinite amount of time” or is used to describe an activity that is futile or unproductive. For example “Let’s party til the cows come home!” or “You can argue with me until the cows come home, but it will not change my mind.”
This makes sense as cows, by nature, are rather slow animals who are generally not in a hurry to get anywhere. In the evening, they are let out to pasture and don’t return until the wee hours of the morning for milking.
Most sources track the origins of this phrase to Scotland in the earlier part of the 1800’s. In the summer, cows in the Scottish Highlands were let out in search of food and would often not return to their barn until fall when the grass was gone and they needed food.
The first evidence of this phrase being used in literature was in 1829 in The Times when a reporter, referring to the Duke of Wellington and his desire to have a place in Peel’s cabinet said, “If the Duke will but do what he unquestionably can do, and propose a Catholic Bill with securities, he may be Minister, as they say in Scotland “until the cows come home.”
Another famous reference is from the movie Duck Soup, starring Groucho Marx when he says, “”I could dance with you till the cows come home. Better still, I’ll dance with the cows and you come home.”