Are cows re­ally holy? What does phrase mean?

Record Observer - - Religion -

As an ama­teur word­smith, I am fas­ci­nated with words and phrases. I love my cell phone be­cause I have a dic­tionary and the­saurus all ready for my per­sonal touch and I can re­search any word or phrase I hear.

You can tell a lot about a per­son by the words and phrases they use. Of course, most use words and phrases they have no idea what they mean. Per­haps they heard some­body else say these words or phrases and so they in­cor­po­rated them into their vo­cab­u­lary, which, says more about them than any­thing else.

I grew up in a very strict Amish/Men­non­ite com­mu­nity where speech was a very guarded ac­tiv­ity. Although not Amish or Men­non­ite, I still had to be care­ful what I said and how I said it. Curse words were com­pletely off limit. No cir­cum­stance ever ex­isted, ac­cord­ing to these peo­ple, war­rant­ing any curse word.

My ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther was like this. He never had much to say and did not say that very of­ten. I re­mem­ber one time sit­ting on the front porch with my grand­fa­ther and his brother and we spent the whole af­ter­noon to­gether and prob­a­bly did not say five words be­tween the three of us. My grand­fa­ther cer­tainly was not out­spo­ken in any­thing.

When­ever he got an­gry with my grand­mother, he sim­ply would leave the house, walk down to the barn and who knows what he did vent­ing his anger at the time.

Vent­ing anger is quite an oc­cu­pa­tion these days. Whether a re­li­gious venue, a po­lit­i­cal venue or just some ed­u­ca­tional venue, peo­ple are filled with anger and are try­ing to vent it some­how and from what I see much of it is not work­ing.

An old say­ing goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Yet, names do re­ally hurt us.

One phrase my grand­fa­ther used a lot was, “holy cow.” He was a farmer so I in­stinc­tively thought he was talk­ing about his cows. Why his cows were holy and oth­ers were not was some­thing I could never com­pre­hend. But, he was my grand­fa­ther.

I still re­mem­ber the first time I heard him say that phrase; “Holy cow, it’s hot out­side to­day.”

When he said it, I was rather con­fused. What does a cow have to do with it be­ing hot out­side and are cows re­ally holy? It just did not make any sense to me.

Another fa­vorite phrase was, “Holy cow, I’m tired.”

Again, what does a cow have to do with him be­ing tired? Maybe he worked a lot with the cows. I know he had about a half a dozen dairy cows and he milked them all by hand. Maybe that is what he was talk­ing about.

But the thing that re­ally got me was what in the world does “holy” have to do with a cow?

As I got older, I be­gan to re­al­ize that “holy” and “cow” had noth­ing to do with each other. It was just a phrase my grand­fa­ther used, and, to put it mildly, it re­ally meant noth­ing at all.

As I get older the more I re­al­ize that peo­ple say things they re­ally do not mean. In fact, most peo­ple do not re­ally think about what they are say­ing let alone know what they are say­ing.

As an ama­teur word­smith my­self, I like to parse my words very care­fully. I want to know what I am say­ing and say what I am think­ing. Of course, ac­cord­ing to the Gra­cious Mistress of the Par­son- age, think­ing is not at the top of my list of ac­tiv­i­ties. I can­not dis­agree with her on that one.

Yes, words do mat­ter. I need to be care­ful what I am say­ing, the more im­por­tant it is, the more I need to be care­ful to un­der­stand what the other per­son is hear­ing. One of the things I have learned as a hus­band is that what I am say­ing to my wife may not be what my wife is hear­ing.

Yes, sticks and stones can break my bones, but that is noth­ing to what harm words can do.

At a real des­per­ate point in my life, I re­sponded to an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing my wife and al­most au­to­mat­i­cally, the phrase, “Holy Cow,” came tum­bling out of my mouth. Need­less to say, it was the last time any­thing like that ever hap­pened.

My wife looked at me with one of “those looks,” and said, “Holy what?”

How can you ex­plain some­thing you do not un­der­stand your­self? She looked at me, I look back at her with one of those blank stares I am fa­mous for, and had no idea what she was talk­ing about.

She had no idea what I was talk­ing about and so I thought at least we were even. But not so.

I had to prom­ise her “and cross my heart and hope to die,” never to use such a phrase again. “That phrase,” she said most de­fi­antly, “is not per­mit­ted in this house.” She said it in such a way that I have, to this very day, never ques­tioned her on it and have never used that phrase again.

James warned about this when he wrote, “Even so the tongue is a lit­tle mem­ber, and boast­eth great things. Be­hold, how great a mat­ter a lit­tle fire kindleth!” ( James 3:5).

I do not know if cows are holy or not, but I will never put those two words to­gether in a phrase what­so­ever as long as the sun shines.

The Rev. James L. Sny­der is pas­tor of the Fam­ily of God Fel­low­ship in Sil­ver Springs Shores. Call him at 352-6874240 or email jamess­ny­der2@ The church web­site is www.whatafel­low­

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