What is a Cash Cow?

Cash Cow Meaning

Definition: A business, department, or product that is a reliable source of profit.

A similar expression is milch cow.

Origin of Cash Cow

Milch cow originated in the 1600s. Cash cow originated around the year 1970 and has overtaken milch cow in popularity.

Both expressions come from literal cows. If a female cow has given birth at least once, farmers can continue to milk that cow. They can sell that milk with little labor and maintenance for a steady income.

Examples of Cash Cow

a cash cow type of businessIn the conversation below, two friends discuss a new meal at their favorite restaurant.

Scott: Well, I’m glad we both ordered this new meal, but I don’t see what’s so special about it.

Tony: Yeah, I agree. I can’t believe they got rid of my favorite menu item and replaced it with this. What do you think the chances are that they’ll bring my favorite one back?

Scott: I think the chances are pretty low. You’re the only person I know who ever ordered that option. This new option, even though neither of us likes it, is apparently a huge cash cow.

Tony: Yeah. Everyone is raving about it, and I know it is bringing in a lot of money for the restaurant. I just don’t think it tastes that great.

define cash cow businessTwo coworkers use the expression while talking about the different departments at their company.

Richard: Did you finish producing that marketing material for that other department?

Miranda: Yeah. I finished it even though they were really rude and demanding about it. Everyone in that department thinks that they are so important.

Richard: It’s because that whole department is a cash cow for the company. That’s the only department that is making a profit. In fact, their profit is supporting all of the other areas of the company.

Miranda: I know. I still think that they should be polite. They’re making money now, but without our marketing they wouldn’t be making nearly so much.

Richard: That’s true.

More Examples

The first example is about couples that met on reality shows and are still trying to stay famous.

  • See how six other reality show couples have managed to spin their own love connections into an exhaustive tabloid circus (and dependable cash cow). –New York Daily News

The second example is about a football player sharing his opinion on another football player.

  • Brandon Marshall’s bottom line is the right bottom line in a cut-throat, cash-cow industry that caters to its best players. The Jets veteran receiver has seen and/or done it all in his 11 years in the NFL, so he knows of what he speaks. –New York Daily News

Summary

A cash cow is something that brings in a lot of money.