Get Your Goat

REMA’s SUMMER OF IDIOMS! Vol.1 Issue 1 

Original Release: 6/17/2009

What was said? I’m gonna “GET YOUR GOAT”!

Did someone really say that? Ya… that was seriously said to me in a meeting today.

What does it mean?  basically… to annoy someone… and let me tell you… he was successful

ORIGIN:
1. This apparently refers 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.

2.  There is one theory, espoused by H.L. Mencken among others, that ties the phrase to the world of horse racing. It used to be common practice, goes this theory, to stable goats with race horses, trainers believing that the mere presence of the goats would help keep the excitable thoroughbreds calm. If an unscrupulous gambler were to arrange for the removal of a certain goat from a certain horse’s stall the day before a race, the horse might be so flustered by the absence of its hircine pal that it would lose the race. The gambler would thus have “gotten the horse’s goat.”

Unfortunately, the first occurrence of the phrase in print, according to the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, was in 1908. Since goats are no longer (if they ever were) housed with race horses, the practice must have arisen near the beginning of the 20th century — and been abandoned shortly thereafter — for that theory to be true.

A more likely origin of the phrase lies in an earlier (1904) citation in the Random House dictionary, for “goat” as prison slang for “anger.” I think this may be the key. After all, goats do, with much provocation, get angry. To bring out the “goat” in someone may take some doing, but will eventually have dramatic results.

QUESTIONABLE: Some people say “Get your GOAD”, “Get your GUT”…..

A goad is a pointed rod used to urge on livestock. A modern equivalent of a goad is the cattle prod.  To goad is to stimulate into action. The phrase “goad you on” comes to mind. To “get your goat (goad)” then is to be successful in stimulating a response. Alternative: The word ‘gut’ down through the years was altered to goat. When something gets your gut, it upsets you and ties your stomach in knots. Alternative: Hyperactive racehorses were often given goats as stablemates because their presence tended to have a calming effect on the horses. After the horse became attached to the goat, it got very upset when its companion disappeared – making it run poorly on the track. In the 19th century, when a devious gambler wanted a horse to lose, he would get the horse’s goat and take it away the night before the race, thus agitating the horse.

SOURCES:

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~genepool/sayings.htm
http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/10/messages/1015.html
http://www.joe-ks.com/phrases/phrasesG.htm
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1 Comment

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One response to “Get Your Goat

  1. Nolagirl

    Of course it’s true that goats were used as stablemates for horses, particularly high-spirited thoroughbreds. My uncle has been a thoroughbred trainer all of his life so, growing up in the ’60’s, I spent a lot of time in the New Orleans Fairground stables. There were always goats in and around the stalls and, I imagine, in many other stables. And for just the reasons noted. Probably still are.

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