Waiting for the cows to come home: Origin of idioms

Photo by Stijn te Strake on Unsplash

It seems that I have to wait for the cows to come home to get paid by some of my clients. In one instance, I have been waiting for more than four months for an invoice to be paid. Each time I phone to enquire about the status of the payment I am fobbed off with lies that equate to “the cheque is in the mail”.

Modern World

Although the world has modernised to include the option of electronic payments, the lie can be just as glib. “I’ll send you proof of payment.” When no such thing shows up in your email, you realise you have been taken for a fool for yet another month, with false promises such as “at the end of the month”, “on our next pay run” , “definitely by Friday” – I have heard them all, and four months later I am tempted to take the legal route. Really, it is ridiculous. The companies still run month to month don’t they? The full-time staff still get paid, don’t they? But when it comes to paying freelancers, there is every excuse in the book not to.

So, I sit back and wait impatiently for the cows to come home.

Lapse in time

This idiom suggests “an indefinite period of time”, a “lapse of time with no definite end”. History informs us that the idiom has its origins as early as the 16th century. Cows enjoy a stroll and once in the fields they are satisfied to roam aimlessly with no intention of returning to their milking stables – i.e. a long but indefinite time.

Although there is comfort among fellow freelancers who suffer the same ill-treatment, four months is beyond my patience threshold, and  I have threatened legal action. Since I made this threat, I’ve received a phone call to say, “I’ll send proof of payment”.

Will the cows be home soon?

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Iza Grek

Iza is an award-winning journalist. She has worked in advertising and communications for more than 20 years. A Word or 2 has been in operation since October 2014 and continues to thrive, serving customers writing and editing services across the board from blogs to speeches.