English LanguageStart - Smart Words

Holy Cow - Meaning

The term "Holy cow!" is an exclamation of astonishment or surprise, both positive and negative. Supposedly, it is a minced oath (euphemism) for "Holy Christ!"; although not all speakers may be aware that they are acclaiming a Higher Being.


  1. Holy cow! You actually looked it up.
  2. Holy cow! This is why America is such a mess. They elect vacuous populists.
  3. Holy cow! There are two things being conflated here.
  4. Holy cow ... talk about paralysis by analysis!
  5. Holy cow, I forgot the wine
  6. Holy cow, here comes the teacher!
  7. Holy cow, Batman!

Similar Expressions

Here are some similar phrases which can be used instead of “Holy Cow”.

Holy Cow & other phrases with the same meaning
  1. Holy smoke
  2. Holy mackerel
  3. Holy Moses
  4. Holy cat
  5. Holy Molly (euphemism for "Holy Mary", Molly being a nickname for Mary)


Synonyms & related Expressions for Holy Cow

A list of other words for Holy Cow which have more or less the same (or similar) meaning.

Golly, Egad
mild surprise or wonder [Alteration of God]
surprise or excitement [Ellipsis from: God blind me]
wonder, amazement, great pleasure, or outstanding success
Oh, boy!
Meaning: simlar to Wow
Short for: Oh My God
Meaning: simlar to Golly
My Goodness
Meaning: simlar to Golly
mild expletive of surprise, enthusiasm, or sympathy [Alteration of Jesus]
mild or ironic oath
(Oh) For heaven’s sake
Meaning: for crying out loud
(What the) Heck
used to intensify [Alteration of hell]
Damn (it)
irritation, contempt, dissatisfaction or annoyance [Alteration of hell]
Dang! Darn (it)
see above [Alterations of damn]

Related Terms

These terms are somewhat related to the synonyms above. However, they are outright swears, and do not try to pretend anything else.

  1. Good grief!
  2. Holy crap!
  3. Good heavens!
  4. Mercy sakes!
  5. Bless my soul!
  6. My word!
  7. Goodness gracious!
  8. Oh dear.
  9. Hell's bells!
  10. Gosh darn it!
  11. Shoot!
  12. Inconceivable! (See, e.g., The Princess Bride)
  13. ¡Ay, caramba!
  14. Dear lord!
  15. Holy Mary, Mother of God!
  16. Man-oh-man!
  17. Jesus H. Christ on a bicycle!
  18. Mercy me!
  19. My heavens!
  20. Holy sh.t!
  21. What the ????
  22. For Christ's sake!
  23. Lordy, lordy!
  24. Sweet Mary, Mother of Christ / Jesus!
  25. Oh my dear God!
  26. Christ Almighty!

Translations in other languages


In German exist two nearly identical expressions:
Heiliger Bimbam!
Heiliger Strohsack!
And these are closely related:
Was zum Kuckuck (What the heck)
Donnerwetter (Golly)


In Spanish, no direct translation seems possible. Close Synonyms are:
¡Córcholis (Good Lord, Gosh)
¡caramba! (Good grief, Wow)
¡caracole! ((literally: snail, (sea) shell); Good heavens!)

Santos cielo (Holy Heaven, Oh my God)
Dios bendito (Good God)


Also in French, no direct translation seems possible. Close Synonyms are:
Bonté divine!
Ça alors!
Oh, La Vache!

The phrase "Vache sacrée" refers to “sacred cow” (with its religious context and implications).

Origin & History

The catch-phrase "Holy cow! This is great!" was printed in 1919 by the Oakland (CA) Tribune, and there exists evidence, that is has been in use since 1913.

In the United States, this exclamatory phrase is closely associated with two well-known baseball announcers; Phil Rizzuto (1917 – 2007) and Harry Caray (1914 –1998). Both used the expression frequently, in order to prevent themselves from lapsing into vulgarity. In addition, the phrase was brought to public attention by reporter and broadcaster Halsey Hall (1919 –1977), who introduced it to the baseball lexicon.


This term is considered to be very popular among teenagers. It is also the common oath and popular exclamation in the entertainment industry and is universally heard on radio, television, and in the movies (maybe more often than in real life).


Sacred Cow

In ethnology, the expression sacred cow refers to cattle declared inviolable for religious reasons. In some pastoral and nomadic cultures, cattle (cows and bulls / oxen) were considered to be a statutory symbol and an indicator for a person’s wealth.

Cows are considered holy by many Hindus, and in most Indian states it is illegal to slaughter them (alos in Nepal, Myanmar and other countries).

Although, for bulls and buffaloes, a 'fit-for-slaughter' certificate may be issued depending on factors like age and gender, continued economic viability, etc. in some Indian states-

Traditionally, Hindus do not slaughter cattle; the consumption of beef is a taboo. After the milk production (which is allowed to be consumed) a cow is usually fed up to its natural death.

Metaphorical Meaning

In colloquial language, the idiom "a holy cow" refers to a taboo, that is, something that cannot be touched, removed or replaced with something else. Examples:

  1. So yes, we would sacrifice an entire generation before talking about leaving the euro, it's a holy cow for Spanish people.
  2. Cricket is India's holy cow.
  3. At my comedy shows, there are no holy cows.
  4. For almost seventy years the life insurance industry has been a smug sacred cow feeding the public a steady line of sacred bull. [Ralph Nader]



Other Meanings