A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from August 23, 2007
“Lift up the cow’s tail and look the situation squarely in the face” (LBJ?)

President Lyndon B. Johnson allegedly said that people should “lift up the cow’s tail and look the situation squarely in the face.” Some say that this is a Texas expression.

The ancient expression is to “take the bull by the horns.” A San Francisco Board of Supervisors member named James McSheehy was recorded by Time magazine in 1944 with several malapropisms, including: “"Let us take the bull by the tail and look the matter squarely in the face.” A cow doesn’t have horns like a bull does, but it’s easy to see how the expression changed.


Time magazine
The McSheehy
Monday, Jul. 17, 1944

Under the big gold dome of San Francisco’s City Hall there were sighs and reminiscent laughter. In the press room and in the ornate, blue and gilt Chamber where the City’s Board of Supervisors meets, they knew that something wonderful was gone. Ruddy, jut-jawed James B. McSheehy, master of the mangled metaphor, was dead.

In his 24 years as a city official, Supervisor McSheehy took pride in his oratorical blockbusters. He boasted that one reporter was permanently assigned to collect each day’s most glaring and improbable McSheehyisms. A belligerent, charming, oldfashioned, long-winded politician who loved the sound of his own voice, McSheehy orated on & on—and was loved for his majesty of phrasing. Students of metaphor-mixing compared him to Philadelphia’s famed ex-Councilman Charles Pommer, a slapdash stylist with a less subtle ear ("I have always been man enough to stand on my own two shoulders"—TIME, Nov. 20, 1939). He was also ranked with Hollywood’s Samuel Goldwyn, an executive whose high-salaried writers are often suspected of improving on the Goldwyn quotations ("They are always biting the hand that lays the golden egg").

At bars, at lunch tables, throughout the City Hall, San Francisco remembered last week, laughed fondly and gratefully, quoted and requoted some of McSheehy’s best:

¶ “Let us take the bull by the tail and look the matter squarely in the face.”

¶ “Gentlemen, the sum mentioned comes within a few cents of being a vast and fabulous sum of money.”

¶ “The handwriting on the wall is just as clear as a bell.”

¶ “That is all water over a wheel and now it’s coming back to haunt us.”

¶ “This is crouched in language which is perfectly oblivious.”

Google Books
Our Fair City
by Robert Sharon Allen
New York: The Vanguard Press, Inc.
1947
Pg. 350:
The official mind in San Francisco is perhaps best exemplified by these pulsing words of a late member of the Board of Supervisors: “let us grab the bull by the tail and look facts squarely in the face.”

Google Books
The Meaning of America:
Essays Toward an Understanding of the American Spirit
by Leland Dewitt Baldwin
Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press
1955
Pg. 31:
“Let us grab the bull by the tail and look the facts squarely in the face.”

Google Books
Only in San Francisco
by Herb Caen
Garden City, NY: Doubleday
1960
Pg. 35:
“Gentlemen, let’s grab the bull by the tail and look the facts squarely in the face.”

Time Magazine
On Record
Monday, Mar. 21, 1960
(...)
An unwritten custom for both House and Senate reporters is to clean up little slips of grammar, fact or taste made by the solons. Once a Congressman leaped to his feet in a farm debate, said that the time had come to take the bull by the tail and look the situation squarely in the face. As discreetly as possible, the Record reporter straightened things out.

Google Books
The Watcher and the Watched
by Bruno M. Cormier
Montreal: Tundra Books
1975
Pg. 68:
..."there comes a time in the Affairs of Man when he must take the bull by the tail and look the situation squarely in the face.”

Google Books
Confessions of a Muckraker
by Jack Anderson and James Boyd
New York: Random House
1979
Pg. 161:
...and in Lyndon Johnson’s phrase, “lift up the cow’s tail and look the situation straight in the face.”

14 August 1982, Valley Independent (Monessen, PA), “Washington Merry-Go-Round” by Jack Anderson, pg. 3, col. 1:
The time has come, in the late Lyndon Johnson’s phrase, “to lift up the cow’s tail and look the situation straight in the face.”

Google Books
Financial Condition of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation...
by the United States Congress, Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs
1994?
Pg. 302:
...seems to have forgotten the old Texas proverb, “Now is the time to lift the cow’s tail and look the situation squarely in the face.”

Google Books
A Time for Reflection
by William E. Simon
Regnery Publishing
2004
Pg. 148:
For some reason, an old Texas proverb came to mind: “Now is the time to raise the cow’s tail and look the situation squarely in the face.”

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Thursday, August 23, 2007 • Permalink