Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas


June 21, 2010

How the cow ate the cabbage

I can’t remember the first time someone used the term “how the cow ate the cabbage” in my vicinity, but perhaps that’s how universal it is in our area. We use it regularly to mean someone relaying the whole, painful truth.

So imagine my surprise last week when I’m driving down the street listening to National Public Radio and some woman calls in to ask about exactly that expression.

The experts hemmed and hawed for a bit, then one of the commentators said “Well, I can clear this up. It comes from an old joke.”

Then he tells this joke, which I warn you isn’t that funny:

A circus comes to a small town and one of the elephants escapes and makes its way to the garden of a little old near-sighted lady. She looks out her window and sees some large animal in her garden and calls the police.

When the cop gets on the line she said “There’s a giant cow in my garden pulling up my cabbages, and you won’t believe how he’s doing it.”

The officer says “Oh, how’s she doing it?”

“With her tail, she’s pulling up the cabbages with her tail,” the lady says.

“And you won’t believe where she’s putting them.”

I honestly didn’t know where it came from before, but I’ve been telling that joke all week. No one else thought it was funny.

After I heard that on the radio, I looked for confirmation on the Internet and found it in a half dozen places, including the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, and “The Word Detective” Web site, a wonderful site written by Evan Morris.

While there, I decided to check on one of my father’s favorite sayings: “Crazy as a peach-orchard boar.” Lots of people speculated on it, but most of their explanations said it was because boars that forage in peach orchards get drunk on fermented fruit.

I’m going to assume that my father picked this expression up somewhere in his past, and did not make it up himself, but he also had the etymology (word history) to go with it. Here’s the explanation according to Ray Jacobs, edited somewhat for delicacy:

A peach orchard boar will eat the peaches whole, and once they’ve been digested all that’s left is the pit. Now, anyone who’s eaten a peach knows that there are two ends of a peach pit. One is dull and the other end can be dangerously sharp.

The end result is that a pig in a peach orchard would be seen running around in circles, hunching and squealing for no apparent reason.

One of the sites also had some other “Southernisms” that I glanced through fondly, and some of which I haven’t heard in a while, including “hissy fit” and this one, which I’d never heard before but will be using in the future when someone doesn’t call something by its right name. “If a cat has kittens in the oven we don't call ‘em biscuits.”

Nope, we tell ‘em how the cow ate the cabbage.


Janet Jacobs is a Daily Sun staff writer. Her column appears on Sundays. She may be reached via e-mail at Want to “Soundoff” on this column? E-mail:

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