Idioms are fun and they’re also a great way to sound like a native speaker. This collection of cow idioms will give you everything you need to know to start using these idioms in your own conversations. I also added some ox, beef, and bull idioms, just to make sure I didn’t leave anything out.
- beef up
- cash cow
- cow chip
- cow pie
- sacred cow
- Have a cow
- Till the cows come home
- Holy cow!
- Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
- Cock and bull story
- Like a bull in a china shop
- Hit the bullseye
- Take/grab the bull by the horns
- (As) Dumb as an ox
- (As) Strong as an ox
Learn the definitions and see these idioms used in lots of natural examples. Keep reading.
Idiom Word Meanings
Below are the definitions for the different words used in this idiom post. Cow, bull, ox, and beef.
cow noun – a large animal kept on farms to produce milk or beef
- My grandfather had 3 dairy cows on his farm. He always had fresh milk to drink.
cow juice OR moo juice is sometimes used as slang for Milk.
- Can I get some moo juice for my coffee?
“Almost 85 percent of the world’s milk supply is from cows,” People also drink the milk of buffaloes, goats, sheep, and camels. SOURCE
cow verb - to frighten somebody in order to make them obey you
*Most often used in the passive voice – TO BE + cowed (past participle)
- Bethany is easily cowed by her boss, even when she doesn’t agree with her.
A SYNONYM of the verb cow is intimidate
- Bethany is easily intimidated by her boss.
bull noun – [countable] the male of any animal in the cow family
- Bull riding is a rodeo sport that involves a person sitting (riding) on the back of a bull that is jumping and kicking and trying to throw them off.
ox noun – a bull (= a male cow) that has been castrated (= had part of its sex organs removed), used, especially in the past, for pulling farm equipment, etc.
- On my grandfather’s farm, the ox did most of the heavy farm work. They were the biggest and strongest animals that he had.
(Ox are known to be strong and quite calm. You’ll recognize these ideas used in the ox idioms below.)
Find other words that become plural by adding the suffix -EN at my post here: The Suffix EN Your Best Guide (free PDF download)
① meat that comes from a cow
- Hamburgers are made from ground beef.
- The United States was the largest consumer of beef in the world in 2020 followed by China, the EU, Brazil, and India. SOURCE
② (informal) a complaint
- It seems like Richard has a beef with you. Did something happen?
Below are some noun phrases, phrasal verbs, and idioms using the word COW. (There’s even an adjective on this list.)
beef up phrasal verb – to make something bigger, better, more interesting, etc.
- The hotel has to beef up security before the president arrives next month.
(They have to increase the level of security at the hotel. Make it stronger.)
- Logan really beefed up over the summer. He must have spent his vacation in the gym.
(Logan got bigger, he has bigger muscles now than before the summer break.)
bullheaded adjective – unwilling to change your opinion about something, in a way that other people think is annoying and unreasonable
- My boss is being very bullheaded right now, he won’t listen to facts. It’s very frustrating.
A SYNONYM of the adjective bullheaded is stubborn
- My boss is being very stubborn right now, he won’t listen to facts. It’s very frustrating.
cash cow noun – the part of a business that always makes a profit and that provides money for the rest of the business
- Apple makes many different devices and computers, but the iPhone is its cash cow right now.
(Apple makes most of its money from iPhone sales.)
- The store sells bracelets, necklaces, and other jewelry, but engagement rings are its cash cow.
cow chip noun – a hard dry piece of solid waste from a cow
- The town has a cow chip throwing contest every year at the summer fair. I will watch it but I won’t participate, I don’t want to touch cow poop.
In The NEWS
Brave Souls Participate in Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw
…children and adults competed to see who could throw chips of dried cow manure the farthest. SOURCE
cow pie noun – a round flat piece of solid waste from a cow
- If you walk through the open field be careful not to step in any cow pies.
sacred cow noun – a custom, system, etc. that has existed for a long time and that many people think should not be questioned or criticized
- My mother grew up loving The Beatles. In my house The Beatles were sacred cows, you wouldn’t dare criticize their music in front of my mom.
Have a cow – (North American English, informal) to become very angry or anxious about something
- I’m only a few minutes late, don’t have a cow.
Bart Simpson saying: “Don’t have a cow man.“
Till the cows come home – (informal) for a very long time; forever
- My science teacher loves to lecture the class, but he never lets us do any experiments. The guy can talk till the cows come home.
Holy cow! – An exclamation of surprise or shock
- A: I found an old baseball card in a shoebox in the back of my closet. I just checked online and the card is worth $8,000!
B: Holy cow! That’s awesome!
Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? – If you can get something for free then there is no point I’m paying for it at the source
- Now that we can get news updated in real-time online, not many people buy newspapers anymore. Why buy the cow you can get the milk for free?
(This can also be used to talk about sex before marriage.)
- Some people believe that you shouldn’t have sex before marriage. They think that if the man is getting sex, he doesn’t need to get married. Why buy the cow you can get the milk for free?
More great animal idioms at my blog post here: 7 Idioms with TIGER (Infographic, videos)
Cock and bull story – A story that is clearly false, often an excuse for something
- This report was supposed to be finished yesterday, why haven’t you done it? Tell me the truth, don’t give me some Cock and Bull story.
Like a bull in a china shop – Clumsily, moving without care or control (In this expression China means fine dishes made of porcelain, things that are valuable but also easily broken.)
- We need to handle this negotiation very carefully, we can’t rush in like a bull in a china shop.
Hit the bullseye – The bullseye is the center of a target, this idiom means exactly correct or the best possible outcome.
- The boss looked really happy after my presentation, it seems like I hit the bullseye with that one.
Take/grab the bull by the horns – To very directly handle a challenge or difficult situation.
- Sometimes we just have to take the bull by the horns and tackle a problem head-on.
(As) Dumb as an ox – Very dumb
- Ricky wanted to prove that not all professional football players are as dumb as an ox. He finished his master’s degree before joining a pro team after graduation.
(As) Strong as an ox – Very strong
- Yesterday, Vincent lifted the back of a car while someone changed a flat tire. That guy is as strong as an ox.
Can you think of any other Cow, Bull, Ox, or Beef idioms that I forgot? Tell me in the comments.
Check out these other great Idiom posts.
- Make Yourself at Home: 27 Common House Idioms (Free PDF)
- Feline Phrases: Understanding Cat Idioms (Free PDF Download)
- Listen Up! Understanding the Meaning of EAR IDIOMS
- Smell a Rat – English Idiom
- Mouse Potato – English Idiom
- The Rat Race – English Idiom
- Play cat and mouse with (someone) – English Idiom