George Stimpson

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What was the tune the old cow died of?

People often say of a song or piece of music they do not like that it is "the tune the old cow died of." The expression itself, although it sounds American, is believed to be of Irish origin. It has not been found earlier than the eighteenth century, but some authorities sup­pose that it originated in connection with a seventeenth- or perhaps sixteenth-century Irish story of a farmer who had no provender for his cow and who tried to appease her hunger by playing her a tune on his fiddle. An old ballad; said to date back at least as far as Shakespeare's time, runs like this:

There was an old man and he had an old cow,
But he had no fodder to give her,
So he took up his fiddle and played her the tune:
"Consider, good cow, consider,
This isn't the time for the grass to grow,
Consider, good cow, consider."
Actually, it seems, it wasn't the tune but the lack of fodder that caused the old cow's demise. In other words, she died from starvation coupled with an overdose of advice.