keep a cow/have a cow

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Sun Apr 24 16:10:36 UTC 2005

On Sun, 24 Apr 2005 08:47:27 -0700, Jan Kammert <write at SCN.ORG> wrote:

>On Sat, 23 Apr 2005, Beverly Flanigan wrote:
>> My father (b. 1900, Minnesota) said the same thing (chase, that is).
>> heard "keep a cow," but might there be some connection with the Simpsons'
>> "Don't have a cow"?  I never watched the show, so I don't really know what
>> the phrase means.
>In the mid-1960s around Chicago, we said have a cow to mean have a fit.

HDAS has a 1966 cite for "have a cow" from the Indiana University Folklore
Archives.  And the similar "have kittens" goes all the back to 1900
(Dialect Notes).

It's been suggested on alt.usage.english that "have kittens" might have
originated as a mishearing/eggcornification of "have conniptions".  Any
evidence for this theory?

--Ben Zimmer

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