I was at the Simpson Street Free Press office, chatting with a few of my friends. One of the editors, Eleazar, asked us what we were doing. After stuttering for a while, trying to think up an excuse, I settled on saying “oh, we were just, you know, shooting the cow.” At this, Eleazar laughed. “You mean shooting the breeze?” he asked. I quickly agreed, feeling embarrassed about the fact that I totally butchered the phrase. My only consolation was that you can also say, “shooting the bull,” and that bulls are the male counterparts to cows.
But then I wondered, what does “shooting the breeze” or “shooting the bull” have to do with conversing in the first place?
There are many theories regarding how the phrase came to be. One theory is that “shooting the breeze” means “to pass time with idle chat.” Cowboys would say the phrase to communicate how a conversation was basically pointless and that they had nothing better to do, like shooting a bull or shooting the breeze. Another theory is that in the late 19th century, breeze was used as a slang word for “rumor,” and eventually came to mean “empty chatter.”
But go ahead and impress your friends by using this phrase. If you do, however, make sure to do so properly; don’t go “shooting the cow” like I did.