What does HOLY COW really mean?



Answers:
You asked first for the MEANING, not the origin (though there is a relationship), so to start with, the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms explains that --
'Holy cow,' 'holy mackerel' or 'Moses' or 'moly' or 'smoke.' An exclamation of surprise, astonishment, delight, or dismay.
http://www.wordwizard.com/ch_forum/topic...

One key to appreciating this expression (whatever its precise origin) is to appreciate that the use of "cow" is NOT meant terribly seriously, but as an odd or silly or at least harmless idea.

That suggests that the expression "Holy cow!" is NOT the equivalent of the idiom "sacred cow" which refers to something sacred (or to something treated as sacred even if it should not be), though it's possible the latter expression played some role in suggesting this silly one.
http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/cow...

ORIGINS (which is, I suspect, what you're really after):

Seeing that the key word starts with a C, it may well be that it began as a "minced oath", a milder substitute for "Holy Christ" (Such expressions frequently use a harmless or even meaningless substitute including some of the same sounds, esp BEGINNING with the same sounds -- cf. "Jeepers Creepers", "Jees", "Jiminy Cricket" and "Judas Priest" for "Jesus (Christ)"; also Gosh, darn, heck. 'the dickens' for 'the devil', etc.)

One of a number of "holy ..." expressions - mild oaths or expletives. These are NOT ancient expressions; in fact, they are relatively recent, and very AMERICAN expressions.

For the date several of them are first attested in print:
"Holy smoke!, 1889; Holy cats!, Holy mackerel!, both 1803; Holy Moses!, 1906, Holy cow!, 1942."
From "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976). "
http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board...

On this sorts of expression, note the following on "holy smoke" --
It seems more likely that holy smoke was invented anew as a mock-religious exclamation and mild oath on the model of the older holy Moses (from the 1850s), and holy terror and Holy Joe (both from the 1880s). In turn these probably served as the model for others of similar type that came later, such as holy cow from the early 1940s.
http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-hol1...

Note that date for the first printed attestaion of "holy cow!" (1942/early 1940s). This does not necessarily mean that was it's first use, but it apparently is much later than many of the others. But it DOES suggest that it might not be so closely connected with the 19th century forms. Rather it might be part of a wave of mid 20th century expressions of this type, esp in popular media (comic books, TV, movies).

Of these, note the 'Captain Marvel' and 'Batman' oaths, 'holy (something harmless),' (referenced by Nigel Rees, in "Very Interesting . . . But Stupid: Catchphrases from the World of Entertainment," (1980)
http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board...

Since all of this was done as silliness. It's POSSIBLE the notion was suggested by the Hindus "sacred cow", base on the idea that a cow itself is a rather silly thing to be regarded holy/sacred.

But that would mean it would be intended to mock. I do not believe that is the case. Again, the main point is that itis supposed to refer to something harmless (which also applies if it was chosen as a substitute for "Christ").
I think holy cow means oh my god or holy crap, its something in the means of that.
generally a religous bovine symbol of some kind within India's borders.
It's sort of a statement of surprise... but without cursing.

Some religious people believe that it comes from the golden calf that the Israelites made while Moses was up on Mount Sinai getting the 10 Commandments from God. According to the Bible, they were dancing around, and worshiping the golden calf when Moses came down from the mountain.
It most likely came once people encountered Hinduism and cows being sacred. It's generally an expression of surprise - a euphemism for holy s--t.
It is an exclamation of surprise. There is no substantial "meaning" to the phrase, rather like "holy mackerel" or "Yikes" or "Wow".
Harry Caray, well known sports caster, was well-known for his frequent exclamation of "Holy Cow!" He trained himself to say that expression, to avoid any chance of using profanity on the air. (This on-air expression was later used by New York Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto.) Caray also avoided any risk of mis-calling a home run, using what became a trademark home run call: It might be . . . it could be . . . it IS! A home run! Holy cow! On p.51-52 of his 1989 autobiography, Holy Cow!, Caray said he first used the "It might be..." part of that expression on the air while covering a college baseball tournament in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the early 1940s. He also said that was probably the first time he said "Holy cow!" on the air, an expression he used all his life in situations where his street-kid tendency to use X-rated language was unacceptable.

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