keep a cow/have a cow

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Mon Apr 25 13:02:41 UTC 2005

Larry's question goes right to the heart of lexicalization theory.

I *think* my grandmother might have said " ?Now, don't have kittens! " but I'm very unsure about this.  If she did, it was hardly ever.  In fact, I feel so unsure about this that I seriously doubt it.  There's something rhetorically unlike her in the sarcasm of the command.

Logically, the existence of a positive "have kittens" entails the existence of the negative imperative "Don't have kittens!"  But whether it ever had significant currency remains an open question. And why would some speakers use one form but not the other ?

With "Don't have a cow !" the opposite situation seems to obtain.  How widely current is the positive form, "have a cow" ?

BTW, wouldn't a very old expression more likely have the form " *have a heifer" ?  How about
" *have a colt" ?



Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU> wrote:
---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: Laurence Horn
Subject: Re: keep a cow/have a cow

At 12:53 PM -0400 4/24/05, Beverly Flanigan wrote:
>At 12:10 PM 4/24/2005 -0400, you wrote:
>>On Sun, 24 Apr 2005 08:47:27 -0700, Jan Kammert 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
>Speaking of eggcorns (since Ben brought them up again), I saw in print
>today for the first time "one in the same." In a column on MJ possibly
>going to prison, the author suggested it would be like bunny rabbits in a
>kennel full of pit bulls: "It's all one in the same."
>And in the '50s we did say "he/she had kittens" when in a rage.

Ah, but did anyone advise you "Don't have kittens, man" to ward one off?


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