Category: 

What is a "Cock N Bull" Story?

Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 26 October 2016
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2016
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
NASA scientists have discovered a class of stars with atmospheric temperatures cooler than the human body.  more...

December 2 ,  1982 :  The first permanent artificial heart was implanted in a human.  more...

One of the more unusual idioms in English is cock n bull or things referred to as cock and bull stories. In the earliest manner in which they were used, these were not slang phrases. Cock is the male rooster and the bull is the male cow. A cock n bull story, tale or excuse is one that is false, meant to impress, fairytalesque, or hard to believe. Its first written use occurs in the early 17th century.

There’s some dispute on origin of this idiomatic phrase. Many believe that the cock n bull story is tied directly to two inns in England called the The Cock and The Bull. These may have existed before the 17th century and both were inns where coaches of travelers stopped for refreshment prior to journeying farther. One practice that can be traced even farther back than the existence of these inns is that of travelers making up tales to entertain each other during exceedingly long rides. This idea is fully explored in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, where each traveler tells a tale in order to impress or delight the others.

Ad

This business of telling tales at inn stops or along the road could make journeys far less tedious, and people studying literature see its repetition in numerous novels where coach rides are featured. Charles Dickens very frequently used coaches as moment when exposition occurs or when tales are told. Sometimes tales of coaches are relayed instead in other venues, and they could be so fantastical, that they were clearly unlikely to be believed. Another interpretation of cock n bull is that it refers to all fiction; some people of certain religious beliefs refused to read novels or viewed them as simply lying for pleasure.

A second origin story exists for the expression cock n bull. It could be that this is a poor translation of the French idiom coq-a-l’ane, which may translate as rooster to donkey. This may have been translated incorrectly into English as cock n bull because the sounds are similar.

Today the expression may be used more pejoratively to cast doubt on any stories that seem too unreal to be true. This is especially the case when a fantastical story is used to justify why homework or some other task wasn’t completed. When the cock n bull story is used as an excuse, it may simply be dismissed as outright lies. Yet the original intent of the idiom was more for entertainment instead of deception. In this respect, the quality of the cock n bull story was judged by its deceit, and the more fantastical or silly, the better.

Ad

You might also Like

Recommended

Discuss this Article

anon347685
Post 5

There are two pubs in a town in England called Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire. They are called The Cock and The Bull and they are still there. They are next to each other, separated only by an arch. The story goes that if a tale was told in one, by the time it was told in the other it would have been embellished beyond recognition. There is no evidence for this, but it is a lovely yarn in itself.

BrickBack
Post 3

I think that another cock nn bull story that you hear a lot in the media is how these baseball players break all kinds of records in their performance and have these huge arms and somehow we are supposed to believe that they were not using any performance enhancing drugs like steroids.

I think that if they cheat their record should not counted and they should be thrown out of the game. I realize that baseball is a competitive sport and these guys know that their statistics will get them higher paying contracts, but not only are they cheating but they are harming their health.

Money can’t bring you back to life if you have a heart attack and die. I think that there should be a stronger crackdown on this. It will also send a message to young kids looking to get into sports that you cannot cheat your way through.

icecream17
Post 2

Wow I didn’t know that. I think that there are a lot of "Cock n Bull" stories and most of them are coming from our congressmen.

Of course, I guess that cock n bull stories aren't limited to politicians -- but when you have that kind of publicity, its easier to get caught out.

PurpleSpark
Post 1

Okay, here is the cock and bull story that I heard growing up:

In the 16th century, a papal bull or bulla was a decree from the Roman Catholic Pope. It was sealed with a stamp bearing the likeness of St. Peter accompanied by the cock that crowed three times before the crucifixion.

After the reformation, Martin Luther issued bulls of his own that contradicted the Vatican. His followers considered papal decrees as lies and referred to them from their seals as “cock and bull”. Something we consider untrue is called a “cock and bull” story.

Maybe we will never really know what the true meaning or origin was but it is fun to speculate!

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email