until the cows come home
Possibly from the fact that cattle let out to pasture may be only expected to return for milking the next morning; thus, for example, a party that goes on “until the cows come home” is a very long one.
Alternatively, the phrase may have a Scottish origin, and may derive from the fact that cattle in the Highlands are put out to graze on the common where grass is plentiful. They stay out for months before scarcity of food causes them to find their way home in the autumn for feeding.
- (idiomatic) For a very long period of time.
You can crank the engine until the cows come home, but it won’t start without fuel.
- 1610, Alexander Cooke, Pope Joane, in William Oldys, editor, The Harleian Miscellany: or, A Collection of Scarce, Curious, and Entertaining Pamphlets and Tracts, as well in Manuscript as in Print, Found in the Late Earl of Oxford's Library: Interspersed with Historical, Political, and Critical Notes: With a Table of the Contents, and an Alphabetical Index, volume IV, London: Printed for T[homas] Osborne, in Gray's-Inn, 1744, OCLC 5325177; republished as John Maltham, editor, The Harleian Miscellany; or, A Collection of Scarce, Curious, and Entertaining Pamphlets and Tracts, as well in Manuscript as in Print, Found in the Late Earl of Oxford's Library, Interspersed with Historical, Political, and Critical Notes, volume IV, London: Printed for R. Dutton, 1808–1811, OCLC 30776079, page 95:
- If there bee any lasie fellow, any that cannot away with worke, any that would wallow in pleasures, hee is hastie to be priested. And when hee is made one, and has gotten a benefice, he consorts with his neighbour priests, who are altogether given to pleasures; and then both hee, and they, live, not like Christians, but like epicures; drinking, eating, feasting, and revelling, till the cow come home, as the saying is.
- 1616, Francis Beaumont; John Fletcher, The Scornfvl Ladie. A Comedie. As it was Acted (with Great Applause) by the Children of Her Maiesties Reuels in the Blacke Fryers, London: Printed for Myles Partrich, and are to be sold at his Shop at the George neere St. Dunstons Church in Fleet-streete, OCLC 15596503, Act II, scene i; republished in The Works of Mr. Francis Beaumont, and Mr. John Fletcher; in Seven Volumes. Adorn'd with Cuts. Revis'd and Correct'd: with Some Account of the Life and Writings of the Authors [...], volume I, London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, at Shakespear's Head over-against Catherine-street in the Strand, 1711, OCLC 723254677, page 250:
- Come my brave Man of War, trace out thy Darling, / As you my learned Council, ſit and turn Boys, / Kiſs till the Cow come home, kiſs cloſe, kiſs cloſe Knaves. / My Modern Poet, thou ſhalt kiſs in Couplets.
- 1647, Francis Beaumont; John Fletcher, The Captain, in Comedies and Tragedies Written by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher Gentlemen: Never before Printed, and Now Published by the Authors Originall Copies, London: Humphrey Robinson: Humphrey Moseley, OCLC 847456464, Act IV, scene ii; republished in The Works of Mr. Francis Beaumont, and Mr. John Fletcher [...], volume IV, London: Printed for Jacob Tonson, at Shakespear's Head over-against Catherine-street in the Strand, 1711, OCLC 723254677, page 2001:
- Good Morrow, Drink till the Cow come home, 'tis all pay'd Boys.
1738, Simon Wagstaff [pseudonym; Jonathan Swift], “Dialogue II”, in A Complete Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, According to the Most Polite Mode and Method Now Used at Court, and in the Best Companies of England. In Three Dialogues, London: Printed for B[enjamin] Motte, and C. Bathurst, at the Middle Temple-Gate in Fleet-Street, OCLC 642162410, page 158:
- Miſs, if I had ſaid ſo, I ſhould have told a Fib; I warrant you lay a Bed till the Cows came home: But, Miſs, ſhall I cut you a little Cruſt now my Hand is in?
- 1952 March 10, Justice Felix Frankfurter (dissenting), Sacher v. United States 343 U.S. 1, Supreme Court of the United States, pages 69–70:
- Now I can't stop lawyers from calling me names and saying I am guilty of judicial misconduct and that I am prejudiced, and this, that and the other thing, and you can keep that up until the cows come home; that is all right, and I take no umbrage at it.
1996, Sam Falle, My Lucky Life: In War, Revolution, Peace and Diplomacy, Lewes, East Sussex: Book Guild, →ISBN, page 80:
- Middleton, up to that time, July 1952, had been prepared to give the lovable old gentleman the benefit of every possible doubt and talk to him until the cows had come home and gone to bed.
2012, Darlene Franklin, A Ranger's Trail (Texas Trails: A Morgan Family series), Chicago, Ill.: Moody Publishers, →ISBN:
- She could list Buck's good qualities from now until the cows came home. If the cows came home. If she waited for him to return until the cows came home, she'd never see any of them again.
2014, Tom Weaver, “Robert Dix”, in Earth vs. the Sci-Fi Filmmakers: 20 Interviews, Jefferson, N.C.; London: McFarland & Company, →ISBN, page 77:
- John [Carradine] and I became quite close, we worked in several movies together. He could recite Shakespeare ’til the cows came home [laughs], and he had a heart as big as outdoors.
- a cold day in hell
- at latter Lammas
- donkey's years
- that'll be the day
- until one is blue in the face
- when hell freezes over