Phrase: dark as the inside of a cow (antedating 1869)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon May 3 22:14:13 UTC 2010

George A. Thompson wrote:
> I use the expression "dark as the inside of a cow", which, I'm quite sure, I picked up from Mark Twain, though I can't say what book.

Yes, you are right. Mark Twain used the expression "dark as the inside
of a cow" in Roughing It (as mentioned by Dan Goncharoff) and in Old
Times on the Mississippi.

I had not heard the expression before, but Joseph Conrad used it in
Lord Jim, and it is still used in bestsellers and literary works,
e.g., Stephen King in The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and Cormac
McCarthy in The Crossing. The wondrous Historical Dictionary of
American Slang has the expression listed under cow. The first cite is
1871 in Mark Twain's Roughing It. The phrase appeared a couple years
earlier here:

Cite: 1869, Black Forest Village Stories by Berthold Auerbach:
Translated by Charles Goepp, Page 235, John W. Lovell Company, New

… when she entered the forest which covered the descent to the Neckar,
it was almost "as dark as the inside of a cow."


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