My grandmother was fond of using old-fashioned sayings and proverbs, and as a result, I developed a strong appreciation of them. It’s always fun finding out where a familiar saying came from too, which is why I recently looked into where the phrase “get your goat” came from (for the record, I started the draft of this post in December, way before The Huffington Post talked about this).
As commonly used, “get your goat” means to make someone angry or annoyed, but who on Earth would equate a goat with anger or annoyance? They’re so sweet and gentle! Exhibit A:
As it turns out, there’s no clear consensus on the phrase’s origins, but both proposed explanations I’ve found revolve around the idea that goats were kept with other animals to help keep them calm.
The Phrase Finder concludes that the saying is distinctly American dating back to 1909 and sticks by the “commonly repeated story which purports to explain the phrase’s origin is that goats were placed with racehorses to keep them calm. When ne’er-do-wells who wanted the horse to race badly removed it, i.e. they ‘got someone’s goat’, the horse became unsettled and ran badly.” The site admits, though that there’s no evidence to support this etymological tale.
That said, Ye Olde English Sayings discusses the origins of “getting your goat” with reference to “an old English (Welsh?) belief that keeping a goat in the barn would have a calming effect on the cows, hence producing more milk. When one wanted to antagonize/terrorize one’s enemy, you would abscond with their goat rendering their milk cows less- to non-productive.”
Whether the phrase is English or American, the common thread is “goats as the great calmers of nature.”
*After I published this, my mom reminded me that in The Sopranos episode where Tony has bought the racehorse Pie-O-My, the trainers keep a goat in the pen with her to calm her down before races — it *must* be true if Tony Soprano says so, right?!
Do you buy it? Were goats the original horse whisperers and/or cow whisperers?
Does anyone have experience with the calming nature of goats on their other animals?
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