AskDefine | Define cow

Dictionary Definition



1 female of domestic cattle: "`moo-cow' is a child's term" [syn: moo-cow]
2 mature female of mammals of which the male is called `bull'
3 a large unpleasant woman v : subdue, restrain, or overcome by affecting with a feeling of awe; frighten (as with threats) [syn: overawe]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • , /kaʊ/, /kaU/
  • Rhymes with: -aʊ

Etymology 1

< *kūz < *gʷōus. Cognate with Dutch koe, German Kuh, Swedish ko; and, from Indo-European, with Greek βοῦς, Latin bos, Persian (gāv), Armenian կով, Archaic Russian говядо and Latvian govs.


  1. A female domesticated ox or other bovine, especially an adult after she has had a calf.
  2. More generally, any domestic bovine regardless of sex or age.
  3. The female of larger species of mammal, including bovines, moose, whales, seals, hippos, rhinos, manatees, and elephants.
  4. In the context of "UK|derogatory|informal": A woman who is considered despicable in some way, especially one considered to be fat, lazy, ugly, argumentative, mean or spiteful.
  5. Anything that is annoyingly difficult.
    That website is a real cow to navigate.
  • (adult female domesticated ox): bull (male, uncastrated), ox (male, castrated), heifer (female, immature)
female domesticated ox or other bovine
any domestic bovine regardless of sex or age
  • Bosnian: krava
  • Chinese:
    Mandarin: (níu)
  • Croatian: krava
  • Czech: tur, skot
  • Danish: ko
  • Dutch: rund
  • Finnish: nauta
  • French: bovin, vache
  • German: Kuh
  • Hebrew: פרה
  • Icelandic: nautgripur , kýr (in plural only)
  • Irish: bó
  • Italian: bovino
  • Japanese: (うし ushi)
  • Kurdish:
  • Old English: cu
  • Russian: корова
  • Scottish Gaelic: mart
  • Serbian:
    Cyrillic: крава
    Roman: krava
  • Slovene: krava
  • Swedish: nötkreatur
female of various species of mammal
  • Chinese:
    Mandarin: (shòu)
  • Czech: kráva
  • Danish: ko (of any bovine and manatees), hun (of whales, seals, elephant etc.)
  • Dutch: koe
  • Estonian: lehm
  • Finnish: lehmä
  • French: vache (of any bovine), femelle (of the whale, seal, manatee, elephant, etc)
  • German: Kuh
  • Icelandic: kýr (of bovines, manatees, whales; also of reindeer and elk/moose)
  • Irish: bó
  • Italian: vacca , mucca (of any bovine), femmina (of the seal, whale, manatee, etc), elefantessa (of the elephant)
  • Japanese: (めす mesu)
  • Slovene: krava
  • Swedish: ko (of bovines and elk/moose'')
derogatory: a woman who is considered despicable in some way
  • Bosnian: krava
  • Catalan: vaca, bruixa, foca
  • Chinese:
    Mandarin: (bēiliède)
  • Croatian: krava
  • Czech: kráva
  • Danish: ko
  • Dutch: domme koe
  • Estonian: lehm
  • Finnish: lehmä
  • French: garce, chipie
  • German: Kuh
  • Hebrew: פרה
  • Hungarian: tehén
  • Icelandic: belja
  • Italian: stronza, bastarda
  • Latvian: govs
  • Polish: krowa
  • Russian: корова
  • Serbian:
    Cyrillic: крава
    Roman: krava
  • Slovene: krava
  • Spanish: bruja
  • Swedish: kossa
  • West Frisian: ko
informal: anything that is annoyingly difficult
Related terms

Etymology 2

Probably from kúga, "to oppress" ( > Swedish kuva).


  1. To intimidate.
    Con artists are not cowed by the law.
to intimidate

Extensive Definition

Cattle, colloquially referred to as cows, are domesticated ungulates, a member of the subfamily Bovinae of the family Bovidae. They are raised as livestock for meat (called beef and veal), dairy products (milk), leather and as draft animals (pulling carts, plows and the like). In some countries, such as India, they are honored in religious ceremonies and revered. It is estimated that there are 1.3 billion cattle in the world today. In terms of food intake by humans, consumption of cattle is less efficient than of grain or vegetables with regard to land use, and hence cattle grazing consumes more acreage than such other agricultural production. Nonetheless, cattle and other forms of domesticated animals can sometimes help to utilize plant resources in areas not easily amenable to other forms of agriculture. These factors were not as important in earlier times prior to the Earth's large human population.

Species of cattle

Cattle were originally identified by Carolus Linnaeus as three separate species. These were Bos taurus, the European cattle, including similar types from Africa and Asia; Bos indicus, the zebu; and the extinct Bos primigenius, the aurochs. The aurochs is ancestral to both zebu and European cattle. More recently these three have increasingly been grouped as one species, with Bos primigenius taurus, Bos primigenius indicus and Bos primigenius primigenius as the subspecies.
Complicating the matter is the ability of cattle to interbreed with other closely related species. Hybrid individuals and even breeds exist, not only between European cattle and zebu but also with yaks (called a dzo), banteng, gaur, and bison ("cattalo"), a cross-genera hybrid. For example, genetic testing of the Dwarf Lulu breed, the only humpless "Bos taurus-type" cattle in Nepal, found them to be a mix of European cattle, zebu and yak. Cattle cannot successfully be bred with water buffalo or African buffalo.
The aurochs originally ranged throughout Europe, North Africa, and much of Asia. In historical times, their range was restricted to Europe, and the last animals were killed by poachers in Masovia, Poland, in 1627. Breeders have attempted to recreate cattle of similar appearance to aurochs by crossing of domesticated cattle breeds, creating the Heck cattle breed. (See also aurochs and zebu articles.)


Word origin

Cattle did not originate as a name for bovine animals. It derives from the Latin caput, head, and originally meant movable property, especially livestock of any kind. The word is closely related to "chattel" (a unit of personal property) and "capital" in the economic sense.
Older English sources like King James Version of the Bible refer to livestock in general as cattle (as opposed to the word deer which then was used for wild animals). Additionally other species of the genus Bos are sometimes called wild cattle. Today, the modern meaning of "cattle", without any other qualifier, is usually restricted to domesticated bovines.

Terminology of cattle

In general, the same words are used in different parts of the world but with minor differences in the definitions. The terminology described here contrasts the differences in definition between the United States of America and other British influenced parts of world such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom.
An intact adult male is called a bull. An adult female who has had one or two calves (depending on regional usage) is called a cow. Young cattle are called calves until they are weaned, then weaners until they are a year old in some areas, in other areas, particularly with beef cattle, they may be known as feeder-calves or simply feeders. After that, they are referred to as yearlings if between one and two years of age, or by gender. A young female before she has had a calf of her own is called a heifer (, "heffer"). A young female that has had only one calf is occasionally called a first-calf heifer. A castrated male is called a steer in the United States of America, and is called a bullock in other parts of the world; although in North America this term refers to a young bull. A castrated male (occasionally a female or in some areas a bull) kept for draft purposes is called an ox (plural oxen). In North America, draft cattle under four years old are called working steers. In the extremely uncommon situation where an adult bull is castrated, it becomes a stag. In all cattle species, a female who is the twin of a bull usually becomes an infertile partial intersex, and is a freemartin. Some Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and Scottish farmers use the term cattlebeast. Neat (horned oxen, from which "neatsfoot oil" is derived), beef (young ox) and beefing (young animal fit for slaughtering) are obsolete terms, although poll or polled cattle is still a term in use for naturally hornless animals, or in some areas cattle that have been disbudded. Cattle raised for human consumption are called beef cattle. Within the beef cattle industry in parts of the United States, the older term beef (plural beeves) is still used to refer to an animal of either gender. Cows of certain breeds that are kept for the milk they give are called dairy cows The myth arose from the use of red capes in the sport of bullfighting; in fact, two different capes are used. The capote is a large, flowing cape that is magenta and yellow. The more famous muleta is the smaller, red cape, used exclusively for the final, fatal segment of the fight. It is not the color of the cape that angers the bull, but rather the movement of the fabric that irritates the bull and incites it to charge.
Although cattle cannot distinguish red from green, they do have two kinds of color receptors in their retinas (cone cells) and so are theoretically able to distinguish some colors, probably in a similar way to other red-green color-blind or dichromatic mammals (such as dogs, cats, horses and up to ten percent of male humans).

Domestication and husbandry

A 400-page United Nations report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that cattle farming is "responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases." The production of cattle to feed and clothe humans stresses ecosystems around the world, and is assessed to be one of the top three environmental problems in the world on a local to global scale.
The report, entitled Livestock's Long Shadow, also surveys the environmental damage from sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. But in almost every case, the world's 1.5 billion cattle are cited as the greatest adverse impact with respect to climate change as well as species extinction. The report concludes that, unless changes are made, the massive damage reckoned to be due to livestock may more than double by 2050, as demand for meat increases. One of the cited changes suggests that intensification of the livestock industry may be suggested, since intensification leads to less land for a given level of production.
Some microbes respire in the cattle gut by an anaerobic process known as methanogenesis (producing the gas methane). Cattle emit a large volume of methane, 95% of it through eructation or burping, not flatulence. As the carbon in the methane comes from the digestion of vegetation produced by photosynthesis, its release into the air by this process would normally be considered harmless, because there is no net increase in carbon in the atmosphere — it's removed as carbon dioxide from the air by photosynthesis and returned to it as methane. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, having a warming effect 23 to 50 times greater, and according to Takahashi and Young "even a small increase in methane concentration in the atmosphere exerts a potentially significant contribution to global warming". Further analysis to the methane gas produced by livestock as a contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases is provided by Weart. Research is underway on methods of reducing this source of methane, by the use of dietary supplements, or treatments to reduce the proportion of methanogenetic microbes, perhaps by vaccination.
Cattle are fed a concentrated high-corn diet which produces rapid weight gain, but this has side effects which include increased acidity in the digestive system. When improperly handled, manure and other byproducts of concentrated agriculture also have environmental consequences.
Grazing by cattle at low intensities can create a favourable environment for native herbs and forbs; however, in most world regions cattle are reducing biodiversity due to overgrazing driven by food demands by an expanding human population.


  • The Evangelist St. Luke is depicted as an ox in Christian art.
  • In Judaism, as described in Bible verse |Numbers|19:2|HE, the ashes of a sacrificed unblemished red heifer that has never been yoked can be used for ritual purification of people who came into contact with a corpse.
  • The ox is one of the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. See: Ox (Zodiac).
  • The constellation Taurus represents a bull.
  • An apocryphal story has it that a cow started the Great Chicago Fire by kicking over a kerosene lamp. Michael Ahern, the reporter who created the cow story, admitted in 1893 that he had made it up because he thought it would make colorful copy.
  • On February 18, 1930 Elm Farm Ollie became the first cow to fly in an airplane and also the first cow to be milked in an airplane.
  • The first known law requiring branding in North America was enacted on February 5, 1644 by Connecticut. It said that all cattle and pigs have to have a registered brand or earmark by May 1, 1644.
  • The is a traditional toy from the Aizu region of Japan that is thought to ward off illness.
  • The case of Sherwood v. Walker -- involving a supposedly barren heifer that was actually pregnant -- first enunciated the concept of Mutual mistake as a means of destroying the Meeting of the minds in Contract law.
  • The Maasai tribe of East Africa traditionally believe that all cows on earth are the God-given property of the Maasai

Cattle in Hindu tradition

Present status

The world cattle population is estimated to be about 1.3 billion head. India is the nation with the largest number of cattle, about 400 million, followed by Brazil and China, with about 150 million each, and the United States, with about 100 million. Africa has about 200 million head of cattle, many of which are herded in traditional ways and serve partly as tokens of their owner's wealth. Europe has about 130 million head of cattle (CT 2006, SC 2006).
Cattle today are the basis of a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. The international trade in beef for 2000 was over $30 billion and represented only 23 percent of world beef production. (Clay 2004). The production of milk, which is also made into cheese, butter, yogurt, and other dairy products, is comparable in economic size to beef production and provides an important part of the food supply for many of the world's people. Cattle hides, used for leather to make shoes and clothing, are another widespread product. Cattle remain broadly used as draft animals in many developing countries, such as India.

See also



  • Bhattacharya, S. 2003. Cattle ownership makes it a man's world. Retrieved December 26, 2006.
  • Cattle Today (CT). 2006. Website. Breeds of cattle. Cattle Today. Retrieved December 26, 2006)
  • Clay, J. 2004. World Agriculture and the Environment: A Commodity-by-Commodity Guide to Impacts and Practices. Washington, D.C., USA: Island Press. ISBN 1559633700.
  • Clutton-Brock, J. 1999. A Natural History of Domesticated Mammals. Cambridge UK : Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521634954.
  • Breeds"> - A visual textbook containing History/Origin, Phenotype & Statistics of 45 breeds.
  • Huffman, B. 2006. The ultimate ungulate page. Retrieved December 26, 2006.
  • Invasive Species Specialist Group (ISSG). 2005. .Bos taurus. Global Invasive Species Database.
  • Nowak, R.M. and Paradiso, J.L. 1983. Walker's Mammals of the World. Baltimore, Maryland, USA: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801825253
  • Oklahoma State University (OSU). 2006. Breeds of Cattle. Retrieved January 5, 2007.
  • Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). 2004. Holy cow. PBS Nature. Retrieved January 5, 2007.
  • Rath, S. 1998. The Complete Cow. Stillwater, Minnesota, USA: Voyageur Press. ISBN 0896583759.
  • Raudiansky, S. 1992. The Covenant of the Wild. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc. ISBN 0688096107.
  • Spectrum Commodities (SC). 2006. Live cattle. Retrieved January 5, 2007.
  • Voelker, W. 1986. The Natural History of Living Mammals. Medford, New Jersey, USA: Plexus Publishing, Inc. ISBN 0937548081.
  • Yogananda, P. 1946. The Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles, California, USA: Self Realization Fellowship. ISBN 0876120834.
cow in Tosk Albanian: Kuh
cow in Arabic: بقرة
cow in Bambara: Misi
cow in Bengali: গরু
cow in Min Nan: Gû
cow in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Карова
cow in Tibetan: གླང་གོག་
cow in Bosnian: Domaće govedo
cow in Bulgarian: Домашно говедо
cow in Catalan: Vaca
cow in Czech: Tur domácí
cow in Welsh: Buwch
cow in Danish: Tamkvæg
cow in Pennsylvania German: Kuh
cow in German: Hausrind
cow in Estonian: Veis
cow in Emiliano-Romagnolo: Bà
cow in Spanish: Bos taurus
cow in Esperanto: Bovo
cow in Basque: Behi
cow in Persian: گاو
cow in French: Bos taurus
cow in Scottish Gaelic: Bò
cow in Galician: Vaca
cow in Gujarati: ગાય
cow in Korean: 소
cow in Upper Sorbian: Howjado
cow in Croatian: Domaće govedo
cow in Indonesian: Sapi
cow in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Vacca
cow in Icelandic: Nautgripur
cow in Italian: Bos taurus
cow in Hebrew: פרה
cow in Pampanga: Baka
cow in Cornish: Bugh
cow in Latin: Bos
cow in Luxembourgish: Rëndvéi
cow in Lithuanian: Naminis jautis
cow in Lingala: Ngɔ́mbɛ́
cow in Hungarian: Szarvasmarha
cow in Macedonian: Домашно говедо
cow in Malay (macrolanguage): Lembu
cow in Min Dong Chinese: Ngù
cow in Dutch: Rundvee
cow in Cree: ᒥᔅᑐᔅ
cow in Japanese: ウシ
cow in Norwegian: Tamfe
cow in Narom: Vaque
cow in Low German: Rindveeh
cow in Polish: Krowa
cow in Portuguese: Gado bovino
cow in Quechua: Waka
cow in Russian: Корова
cow in Sardinian: Bàca
cow in Albanian: Lopa
cow in Simple English: Cattle
cow in Slovak: Tur domáci
cow in Slovenian: Domače govedo
cow in Serbian: Krava
cow in Finnish: Nauta
cow in Swedish: Nötkreatur
cow in Tagalog: Baka
cow in Thai: วัว
cow in Tajik: Гов
cow in Turkish: Sığır
cow in Ukrainian: Корова
cow in Walloon: Bovrins
cow in Yiddish: בהמה
cow in Contenese: 牛
cow in Samogitian: Galvėjē
cow in Chinese: 歐洲牛

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Brahman, Indian buffalo, Partlet, abash, appall, aurochs, beat down, beef, beef cattle, beeves, biddy, bison, bitch, bludgeon, bluster, bluster out of, bossy, bovine, bovine animal, break, brood mare, browbeat, buffalo, bull, bulldoze, bullock, bully, bullyrag, calf, carabao, castrate, cattle, clamp down on, coerce, compel, critter, dairy cattle, dairy cow, daunt, demoralize, despotize, discomfit, disconcert, dismay, doe, dogie, domineer, domineer over, dragoon, embarrass, enslave, ewe, ewe lamb, faze, filly, grind, grind down, guinea hen, gyp, harass, hector, heifer, hen, henpeck, hind, hornless cow, huff, intimidate, jenny, keep down, keep under, kine, leppy, lioness, lord it over, mare, maverick, milch cow, milcher, milk cow, milker, muley cow, muley head, musk-ox, nanny, nanny goat, neat, oppress, overawe, overbear, overmaster, override, ox, oxen, peahen, press heavy on, rattle, repress, ride over, ride roughshod over, roe, she-bear, she-goat, she-lion, slut, sow, steer, stirk, stot, strong-arm, subjugate, suppress, systematically terrorize, terrorize, threaten, tigress, trample down, trample upon, tread down, tread upon, tyrannize, tyrannize over, unman, vixen, walk all over, walk over, weigh heavy on, wisent, yak, yearling, zebu
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