get one's goat (1906)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Fri Oct 3 17:51:32 UTC 2014

Here is an instance of "get his goat" in the boxing domain from Kid
McCoy in 1903.

Date: December 5, 1903,
Newspaper: Indianapolis Sun
Newspaper Location: Indianapolis, Indiana
Section: Sports
Article: Kid M'Coy Tells of His Recent Fight with Jim Stewart
Author: Norman Selby (Charles (Kid) McCoy)
Page Unnumber; Page 25 (according to NewspaperArchive)
Column 2
Database NewspaperArchive

[Begin excerpt]
I made a grievous mistake at the be-
ginning of that fight. I started out to
"get his goat," so to speak, and I suc-
ceeded only too well. Stewart was so
frightened that he wouldn't fight. I ex-
pected him to come to me, and if he
had he would have been knocked out, but
he was so thoroughly scared after I
knocked him down, and so completely
overawed by my reputation, that he
would not come to me - he would not, for
even a moment, be on the aggressive.
[End excerpt]


On Fri, Oct 3, 2014 at 1:28 PM, Stephen Goranson <goranson at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Stephen Goranson <goranson at DUKE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: get one's goat (1906)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 1904 maybe relevant=0A=
> "Aha, my boy. That got your goat....Got hisn goat is right..."=0A=
> our+goat%22&hl=3Den&sa=3DX&ei=3DmNsuVLKHAojlsASlioK4Aw&ved=3D0CB8Q6AEwAA#v=
> =3Donepage&q=3D%22got%20your%20goat%22&f=3Dfalse=0A=
> ________________________________________=0A=
> From: American Dialect Society on behalf of Stephen Goranson =0A=
> Sent: Friday, October 3, 2014 1:03 PM=0A=
> =0A=
> Subject: Re: [ADS-L] get one's goat (1906)=0A=
> =0A=
> 1905, Oct. 28, possibly relevant:=0A=
> "If that don't get my goat!..." [The scan is not great: the ! and the conte=
> xt is not especially clear.]=0A=
> Colliers p. 30=0A=
> my+goat%22&hl=3Den&sa=3DX&ei=3DLNUuVM2gLqnjsASGzoHwDg&ved=3D0CCgQ6AEwAA#v=
> =3Donepage&q=3D%22get%20my%20goat%22&f=3Dfalse=0A=
> =0A=
> Stephen Goranson=0A=
> ________________________________________=0A=
> From: American Dialect Society  on behalf of Ben Zimmer=0A=
> Sent: Friday, October 3, 2014 12:38 PM=0A=
> =0A=
> Subject: [ADS-L] get one's goat (1906)=0A=
> =0A=
> The mysterious origins of "get one's goat" came up on Twitter=0A=
> recently. HDAS and GDoS both start with "goat" glossed as "anger" in=0A=
> _Life in Sing Sing_ (1904) and have cites for the full phrase starting=0A=
> in 1908. I was able to find a few cites from 1906 in the Genealogy=0A=
> Bank archive.=0A=
> =0A=
> 1906 June 2 _Jersey Journal_ 3/3 (head & text) Colored Man "Got His=0A=
> Goat." But There Was a Real Goat in It, Too, and Carmody Butted Into=0A=
> Trouble. "Judge, he got my goat," said William Carmody, 23 years old,=0A=
> of 302 Second Street, Hoboken, when arraigned before Judge Higgins in=0A=
> the First Criminal Court on a charge of atrocious assault and battery,=0A=
> preferred by John Bailey, colored, of 276 Eleventh Street.=0A=
> =0A=
> 1906 Sept 7  _Daily People_ (New York, NY) 2/3 Something or other I=0A=
> said in my criticism of Raiser's letter of the 14th instant must have=0A=
> "got his goat."=0A=
> =0A=
> 1906 Nov 23 _Wilkes-Barre (Penn.) Times_ 7/1 "Step on the old man's=0A=
> feet," said the Kid [sc. Kid McCoy to Jack O'Brien]. "His feet are in=0A=
> the cornfield, and you will get his goat more by keeping on top of=0A=
> them all the time than by stabbing him in the food chopper."=0A=
> =0A=
> The first cite above is about a case involving an actual goat, but the=0A=
> headline indicates that readers would appreciate the double entendre.=0A=
> The same is true of this later cite, also from the Jersey Journal:=0A=
> =0A=
> 1907 Dec 14 _Jersey Journal_ 3/3 It is easy to "get the goat" of the=0A=
> police of the Second Precinct now, for locked up in a cell at the=0A=
> Seventh Street police station is a "Nannie" that was arrested by=0A=
> Roundsman Sniffen for her obstreperous conduct in Jersey Avenue=0A=
> yesterday.=0A=
> =0A=
> The 11/23/06 cite suggests the expression was in common use in the=0A=
> boxing world. See also the boxing-related treatment of the phrase in=0A=
> Richard Barry's "The Prize Ring" (Pearson's Magazine, July 1910):=0A=
> =0A=
> =0A=
> Here is Barry's explanation of the origin:=0A=
> =0A=
> "Originally this phrase was racing slang. To keep a racehorse from=0A=
> going stale a trainer frequently quarters with him a goat, for the pet=0A=
> relieves the thoroughbred of his loneliness. But intriguers have found=0A=
> that by stealing a goat from a horse a day or two before a great race=0A=
> he can be thrown out of condition. The loss of his favorite companion=0A=
> annoys the horse and he goes into the big event in a highly feminized=0A=
> state of nerves. So, to 'get his goat' is to remove his confidence."=0A=
> =0A=
> Like Michael Quinion, I find the horse-racing story rather dubious,=0A=
> but it's notable that this explanation was given quite early on.=0A=
> =0A=
> =0A=
> If I had to guess, I'd say "goat" developed as an alteration of "goad"=0A=
> (note that _Life in Sing Sing_ glosses "goat" not just as "anger" but=0A=
> "to exasperate") -- for comic effect, or maybe as a kind of prison=0A=
> code.=0A=
> =0A=
> --bgz=0A=
> =0A=
> --=0A=
> Ben Zimmer=0A=
> ------------------------------------------------------------
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