How Now Brown Cow Use and Origin

How Now Brown Cow Meaning

Definition: No fixed meaning; used to teach elocution.

The phrase how now brown cow does not have a fixed meaning. People who teach English speech and elocution use it to demonstrate how rounded vowel sounds are pronounced.  Because it rhymes, English language learners and children who are learning speech may find it easy to remember.

Origin of How Now Brown Cow

No one knows who coined how now brown cow. It first appeared in print in a 1942 edition of The Capital, a US newspaper:

how now brown cow bookWhen he first tried out of the Pasadena Community Playhouse his voice wouldn’t carry past the front rows. Coach Belle Kennedy had him declaim How, Now, Brown Cow? And The Rain in Spain Still Stains – over and over.

Some sources believe how now brown cow once had a fixed meaning. One theory suggests that a customer at a bar in 18th-century Scotland could order a beer by saying, “How now brown cow?” to the bartender. While the term brown cow referred to a barrel of beer in Scotland, there is little evidence to support this claim.

References to How Now Brown Cow in Popular Culture

why now brown cowThough the phrase has no fixed meaning, several fictional characters use the phrase in various American films, including:

  • Anchorman (2004)
  • The Avengers (1998)
  • There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)
  • Dance Flick (2009)

How now brown cow is used by fictional characters in sixteen films. It seems to be rather popular even though it has no meaning.

Examples of How Now Brown Cow

In this example, English teacher Amy is teaching her English language students how to pronounce rounded vowel sounds. She asks them to repeat how now brown cow to demonstrate how these sounds are pronounced.

Amy: Repeat after me: how now brown cow.

Students: How now brown cow.


The English phrase how now brown cow has no inherent meaning. English language and elocution teachers use it to illustrate how rounded vowel sounds are pronounced in English.