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.
Audio (AU) (file)
- (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.
- [1609–1612, Francis Beaumont; John Fletcher, “The Captaine”, in Comedies and Tragedies […], London: Printed for Humphrey Robinson, […], and for Humphrey Moseley […], published 1647, OCLC 3083972, Act IV, scene ii, page 63, column 1:
- Good Morrow, / Drinke tell the Cow come home, 'tis all pay'd boyes.
- [1610, Alexander Cooke, “Pope Joane”, in William Oldys, editor, The Harleian Miscellany: […], volume IV, London: T[homas] Osborne, […], published 1745, OCLC 5325177, page 125:
- If there be any lazy Fellow, any that cannot away with Work, any that would wallow in Pleaſures, he is haſty to be prieſted. And, when he is made one, and hath gotten a Benefice, he conſorts with his Neighbour Prieſts, who are altogether given to Pleaſures; and then both he, and they, live, not like Chriſtians, but like Epicures; drinking, eating, feaſting, and revelling, till the Cow come Home, as the saying is; [...]]
- [c. 1613–1616, Francis Beaumont; John Fletcher, “The Scornful Lady, a Comedy”, in Fifty Comedies and Tragedies. […], [part 1], London: Printed by J[ohn] Macock [and H. Hills], for John Martyn, Henry Herringman, and Richard Marriot, published 1679, OCLC 1015511273, Act II, scene i, page 68, column 1:
- Come my brave Man of War, trace out thy darling, / As you my learned Council, ſit and turn boyes, / Kiſs till the Cow come home, kiſs cloſe, kiſs cloſe knaves. / My Modern Poet, thou ſhalt kiſs in couplets.
- 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, […]]], 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