One's goat (which can be gotten)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Mar 27 08:00:56 UTC 2005

Review of the handy on-line newspapers shows that the "goat" in "get one's
goat" was not strictly confined to this fixed expression, which is probably
favored by alliteration.

One's "goat" is apparently more or less one's composure or self-confidence.

My current speculation is that the original reference was to a (metaphoric)
mascot (in the old sense of good-luck charm, the opposite of jinx or
hoodoo). Many sports teams apparently had goat mascots. The story about
race-horses having goat companions is apparently true. However, I do not
find any single instance of "getting/stealing/losing [a horse's] goat";
it's always a human being's goat. I speculate that the race-horse's goat
was a mascot kept out of superstition (whether or not the horse became
attached to it), and I doubt that the specifically horse-related goat was
the etymological ancestor of this metaphor ... merely a cousin.

Here are the instances which I found in the first few years from N'archive,
with my glosses or interpretations:


"His goat and most of his money gone" (Dispirited, with most of his money
gone [?]) [1907]
"Tigers have lost their 'goat'" (Tigers have lost their confidence [?]
[baseball]) [1907]

"Get my goat" (Bother or deter me) [1908]
"Get my goat" (Amuse me, make me laugh [jokes]) [1908]
"This has got my goat" (This has me mystified) [1908]
"They've got my goat" (I'm down and out, broke) [1908]
"Got his goat" (Got the better of him) [1908]
"Had got his goat" (Had intimidated him) [1908]
"Got his 'goat'" (Annoyed him [?]) [1908]
"Had his goat" (Had him rattled) [1908]

"Gets my goat" (Baffles me [where he went]) [1909]
"Get my goat" (Annoy me) [1909]
"Getting his goat" (Getting the better of him) [1909]

"Got my goat" (Angered me) [1910]
"Got my goat" (Got me baffled [how to cook spinach]) [1910]
"What got his goat" (What he couldn't figure out [what to tell his wife])
"To get his goat" (To make him angry) [1910]
"He lost his 'goat'" (He lost his composure [of a jockey]) [1910]
"Had his goat" (Had him intimidated) [1910]
"Get his goat" (Annoy him) [1910]
"Get his goat" (Get him upset) [1910]
"Captures our goat" (Trounces us [baseball]) [1910]

"My goat is not for sale" (They can't bother me) [1911]
"Drops his goat" (Loses his nerve [high-iron worker]) [1911]
"Gets my goat" (Amazes or favorably impresses me [a fine theater]) [1911]
"Gets my goat" (Angers me) [1911]
"Gets my goat" (Astonishes me or seems ironic to me [foibles]) [1911]
"You ain't got my goat" (You haven't intimidated me) [1911]
"Has really got my goat" (Really has me stumped [unanswerable question]) [1911]
"Has got my goat" (Has angered or annoyed me) [1911]
"What got my goat" (What gave me particular difficulty) [1911]
"He's got my goat" (He has me hoodooed) [1911]
"It's about got my goat today" (I'm suffering from the heat today) [1911]
"Got my goat completely" (Angered me) [1911]
"You've got my goat" (I surrender; you've converted me [evangelical
meeting]) [1911]
"The life I lead has got my goat" (My life has got me down [?]) [1911]
"Get his goat" (Put one over on him [practical joke]) [1911]
"Get his goat" (Rattle him [?] [heckling the pitcher]) [1911]
"Had his goat" (Had him scared) [1911]
"Gaol has got his goat" (Prison has broken his spirit) [1911]
"They had corraled his Goat" (They had taken his self-respect [?]) [1911]
"He had 'lost his goat'" (He had lost his nerve) [1911]
"Raving and roaring for his goat" (Shouting in order to rattle him
[baseball fans]) [1911]
"Nearly 'got his goat'" (Nearly talked him into something) [1911]

"Gets my goat" (Annoys me) [1912]
"Can get my goat" (Can affect me [?] [baseball fans' heckling]) [1912]
"Got my goat" (Angered me) [1912]
"Got my goat" (Annoyed me) [1912]
"Has quite got my goat" (Has got me baffled [how to get coal]) [1912]
"Got my goat" (Angered me) [1912]
"Got his goat" (Got the better of him [?] [baseball pitcher]) [1912]
"Getting his 'goat'" (Getting him rattled) [1912]
"A man that has been robbed of his goat" (A man who lacks confidence [?])
"Got his goat" (Annoyed him) [1912]
"It got his 'goat'" (It got the best of him [wine]) [1912]
"Got his goat .... lost his goat" (Made him angry .... got angry) [1912]
"Get his 'goat'" (Unsettle him [by heckling]) [1912]


To lose one's goat was considered tantamount to failure (in athletics,
etc.). "Goat" = "anger" is not apt; rather "goat" = "temper" (opposite of
anger, approximately) is about right: "lose one's goat" approximates "lose
one's temper" in some cases.

-- Doug Wilson

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