cabbage together (with cow)

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Thu May 5 01:31:23 UTC 2011

At 5/4/2011 10:59 AM, Alice Faber wrote:
>My google search was slightly more productive, returning 124 hits on
>"cabbaged together" ("cabbage together" gives recipes and food blogs!).
>The meaning appears to be something akin to "jerry-rigged".

1)  In an effort to avoid the hits like "boil the cabbage together
with ...", I tried "cabbage/-ed/-ing it/them/something together".  In
support of my previous assertion that it should be in the OED, I find
among the numerous GBooks hits (2 in total for the 9 combinations,
both for the same source), an instance alleged to be, and actually from, 1857:

>Folks shouldn't try to do two things at once, That is, to cow and
>cabbage it together. ...

 From The National Magazine: Devoted to Literature, Art, and
Religion.  Volume 10.  January to June, 1857.  New York: Published by
Carleton & Porter, 1857.  Page 87.  {GBooks, Full view.]

This is within an essay titled "The Cow and the Cabbage. An Art
Dialogue, by Meister Karl."  There was once an artist who "Limn'd on
the canvas ground a cow and cabbage".  So well did he paint that "The
cow began at once to eat the cabbage".  So far, "cow and cabbage
together" would be merely a literal noun phrase.  But later in the
quotation above, "cabbage" has become a verb, and the sense has
become metaphorical.  The context suggests that the aphorism was
known before 1857.

2)  There is a hint to a possible etymology of "cabbage together" in
the following:  Within a discourse on unattractive country dwellings
and their slatternly occupants, the author writes:

>As I walk about, I notice the careworn, pallid faces of the wives
>and mothers about many of these country homes ... When I see these
>women at nightfall, in this neglected dress [etc.] I fall to
>thinking how much life would be worth to me reduced to this
>utilitarian standard of cow and cabbage.

 From Ginger Snaps, by Fanny Fern (New York: Carleton; London: S.
Low, 1871, [c1870]), page 38.  GBooks, Full view.

Did "cow and cabbage" as a stereotypical meal of the lower classes
evolve into a metaphor for the people themselves, and then into the
verbal phrase meaning "to construct something substandard"?

"To cow and cabbage together" isn't in the OED either.  Now I don't
know which version should be in the OED.  :-)

P.S.  The painter seems to have flourished circa 1949.  "The
Philadelphia Galaxy says an artist of that city painted a cow and
cabbage so natural that he was obliged to separate them before they
were finished, because the cow commenced eating the cabbage !"  From
The Water-Cure Journal, and Herald of Reforms: Volumes 7-8, New York,
Fowler and Wells, 1849. Page 30.  (The short tale containing this
does not include "cabbage together".)

3)  In Google Everything, there are a few posts containing "cabbage
it together" from the 21st century.


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