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holy cow

interjection, Slang.
(used to express bewilderment, surprise, or astonishment.)
Origin of holy cow
First recorded in 1920-25 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for holy cow
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The priest replied, "Your soul will go into the body of a holy cow."

    Gospel Philosophy J. H. Ward
  • For the sake of one of your precious eyelashes I would spit on the names of the gods and slaughter the holy cow.

    The Ten-foot Chain Achmed Abdullah
Contemporary definitions for holy cow

an exclamation of surprise, delight, indignation, or dismay

Usage Note

slang, with many variations: holy Moses , [holy smoke], holy mackerel , holy moly's 21st Century Lexicon
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Slang definitions & phrases for holy cow

holy cow


(Variations: cats or gee or mackerel or moley or Moses or schmuts shit or smoke or sox may replace cow) An exclamation of surprise, wonder, dismay, admiration, etc; Wow!: All he could manage to say upon seeing the nude blonde was ''holy cow!''/ Holy shit, the police/ And I think holy shit, this could be a Hitler/ Holy schmuts, that would be the pride and glory

[entry form 1940s+, cats 1900+, gee 1895+, mackerel 1903+, Moses 1900+, schmutz 1990s+, shit 1940s+, smoke 1889+, sox 1909+; euphemisms for holy Christ; moley is from comic-book character Captain Marvel]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with holy cow

holy cow

Also,holy mackerel or Moses or moly or smoke. An exclamation of surprise, astonishment, delight, or dismay, as in Holy cow, I forgot the wine, or Holy mackerel, you won! or Holy Moses, here comes the teacher! or Holy smoke, I didn't know you were here too. The oldest of these slangy expletives uses mackerel, dating from about 1800; the one with Moses dates from about 1850 and cow from about 1920. None has any literal significance, and moly is a neologism devised to rhyme with “holy” and possibly a euphemism for “Moses.”
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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