From Everything You Know about English is Wrong:

Now that you know, it's time to, well, bite the mother tongue. William Brohaugh, former editor of Writer's Digest, will be your tour guide on this delightful journey through the English language, pointing out all the misconceptions about our wonderful – and wonderfully confusing – native tongue. Tackling words, letters, grammar and rules, no sacred cow remains untipped as Brohaugh reveals such fascinating and irreverent shockers.

What does the phrase/idiom "no sacred cow remains untipped" mean?


1 Answer 1


Not an idiom, but a mash-up of two expressions.

A sacred cow (from the Hindu veneration of cattle) is an idea or principle that is held to be above criticism, especially one which the author believes is unreasonably so.

The NHS has become a sacred cow of British politics, no MP dares criticise it.

A sacred cow in English grammar might be "Every sentence has a verb". Really!

Cow tipping is the (urban legend) of a pastime in which people sneak up beside cows and push them over.

These two ideas are combined for comic effect. The pattern is similar to "no stone is left unturned" (meaning every place has been searched). Altogether it means that every principle of Engish grammar is challenged.

  • Hm, the Wikipedia citation for the claim that the “sacred cow” idiom comes from American understanding of Hinduism is pretty weak. It establishes that these words have been used, literally, to refer to cows’ status in Hinduism, but it doesn't do anything to attach that usage historically to the later development of the idiom. Wikipedia itself notes it as a fairly weak citation. For myself, I had always assumed it was a reference to the golden calf from Exodus—a far more familiar allusion for 19th-century Americans, and one in which the sacred cow was literally false, which plays into the idiom
    – KRyan
    Jul 20, 2020 at 14:05
  • 4
    I think the onus would be on you to link it to the golden calf of Exodus, which is never referred to as a "sacred cow" and always as a "calf".
    – James K
    Jul 20, 2020 at 14:34
  • That’s precisely the link that Wikipedia cites and that I’m talking about—its quotations do not demonstrate what is asserted in the surrounding text. I agree that any answer asserting the golden calf as a connection would need to find evidence, which I do not have. Nonetheless, I maintain that you don’t have any real evidence for the Hinduism connection, either.
    – KRyan
    Jul 20, 2020 at 14:37
  • @KRyan it's possible to make a search in google books by year. It shows that at first "sacred cow" appears as a literal reference to myths, coincidentally more often Egyptian; then around early XX century it begins to be used as an idiom; at this time the literal usage is almost exclusively to Indian mythology. google.com/…
    – IMil
    Jul 21, 2020 at 6:17

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