Colloquialisms Have Their Place

Have you ever wondered how a colloquialism ever gets started and is it really intended to mean what it expresses? We all use them every now and then, but just how often do we really take them seriously.

I heard someone say once that they were as happy as a cow in clover. I took it that they were feeling pretty happy on this given occasion about their current circumstances and what they were happy about had absolutely nothing to do with cows. But what they did say about that cow they mentioned standing in a bunch of clover has caused me to do some pondering. Was it really happy to be up to its eyeballs in itchy grass? Clover has been known to contain chiggers at certain times of the year. Maybe she was not really happy, but instead had a look of distress due to chiggers making her itch. I can understand her questionable expression having had chiggers on my ankles before and trying to scratch them with my foot under the table at a major social event. The look people saw on my face at the event may have been taken as a look of happiness, but instead it was a look of relief from getting to scratch where it itched.

Did this person, who used the cow as an example for their own happiness, ever consider that cows might not always like to eat clover? Maybe the cow would have preferred something else that produced less stomach distress. Maybe the expression was once one man’s opinion when he thought a cow looked happy in clover when the cow was just needing a Tums.

Just like our everyday usage of colloquialisms about cows and other things, there are all kinds of myths out there about many things that are just figures of speech gone awry. One man’s opinion does not always mean what they say or think is completely true.

Take the myth against agriculture that the world can support more vegetarians than meat eaters. Not true. Folks wanting a world of total vegetarians may be happy for a while if that was all there was, but cows in clover could end up being the only things with a smile on their face.

If all humans became vegetarians, there would be less food to eat and not more. The American Farm Bureau reports that for every acre of land that can produce crops, there are almost four acres that are more suitable to grazing animals than crop production. If you take grazing animals out of the equation, you are left with less food production simply because there is less land on which food can be produced. It has even been suggested that the same land that is used for beef production can be used to produce grain instead. In Tennessee, that is really out of the question. Cattle now graze on land that is only suited for cattle production and would be impossible for growing crops. Cattle graze and eat forages that humans cannot digest or would not eat, such as grass, hay and by-products of grain milling and food production. Cattle can eat and convert these feed sources into high quality protein.

One myth that has always caused me problems is that DDT was the main cause of the near extinction of bald eagles. The book “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson is widely credited with launching the environmentalism movement and giving DDT its out. However, it is still questioned if the science used in research, demonstrating that DDT causes eggshells to thin, used the correct methods for the study. It was also reported way back in 1921 that bald eagles were threatened with extinction. The first use of DDT was in 1943, so what was causing the eagles to thin out more than twenty years prior?

They are now on a comeback, but it may not have been the DDT removal that needs to get the credit or “Silent Spring.” The Clean Water Act went into effect around the same time DDT was removed from the farm. That law cleaned up water contaminants that have also been proven to cause eggshell thinning, such as oil, lead and mercury.

Myths and colloquialisms are a lot alike. They are passed down and spread by word of mouth. Colloquialisms are fun and explain a point. Myths, however, can cause damage and spread a lot of untruths.

Just give me a cow in clover any old time, whether she is happy or not.


– Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at