until the cows come home

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English[edit]

Cattle in General Terán, Nuevo León, Mexico

Alternative forms[edit]

Etymology[edit]

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,[1] 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.

Phrase[edit]

until the cows come home ‎(simple past until the cows came home, pluperfect until the cows had come home)

  1. (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.

Usage notes[edit]

The phrase is often used to describe activities regarded as futile or unproductive.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ See, for example, “Till the cows come home”, in Phrase Finder[1], accessed 30 March 2013, archived from the original on 11 June 2016.