This picturesque expression, meaning 'not a very good shot with a rifle' or (of a footballer) unable to score any goals, has cropped up a few times recently in my reading. Does anyone know where it originated?
I believe it is an Irish slang phrase.
You couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo (phr): bad aim, woeful hurler/darts player/soccer player etc.
Below are some Google findings which make me think this way:
- Dublin Slang
- Everyday English and slang in Ireland
- BBC - Northern Ireland - Voices
- Irish Vocabulary, Everyday English and Slang on Irish Celtic Jewels
- Everyday English and Slang in Ireland (scribd.com)
I also came accross an interesting forum thread which mentions this phrase. Here is an excerpt:
Jackie Milburn: - My dad used to say "son, yer couldn't hit a cow's arse with a shovel"
Juande the Spurrier: - There is a shovel that is called a banjo, because it's shaped like the musical instrument. Seems a farmer might be more likely to have a shovel than a banjo.
With further research, I found out that banjo is a shovel type indeed.
Banjo (as a shovel):
Banjo (as a musical instrument):
- During the Congo Crisis Mike Hoare organised and led two separate mercenary groups (1960–1961, and 1964) and wrote about it in his 1967 Congo Mercenary:
One of my young recruits amused me one day when I heard him exclaim to an old sweat who had missed the target completely, "Garn, you couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo!"
- Robert Smith's 1947 Baseball: a historical narrative of the game, the men who have played it, and its place in American life says:
The only man left on the bench was Colcolough, who, some fans whispered, couldn't hit a bull on the backside with a shovel. He certainly couldn't hit today, for he struck out to end the game.
- Eugene V. Connett and Edgar Burke's 1947 Duck Shooting Along the Atlantic Tidewater:
One gem was a confession by Chick Welles, who said, "I don't know what ailed me today — I just couldn't hit a cow in the behind with a snow shovel."
- A circa 1947 Archery, Volumes 19-21:
I couldn't hit a bull in the broadside with a scoop shovel. Ever."
- John Cherry Monks' 1945 A ribbon and a star: the Third marines at Bougainville:
All of a sudden courageous, he called after the departing planes: "You couldn't hit the broad side of a bull's ass with a spade, you slant-eyed bastard!
- Francis van Wyck Mason's 1942 Rivers of glory
"You dumb bastards couldn't hit a blind ox on the rump with a scoop shovel." Andrew standing taut behind the wheel felt aghast. Three clean misses and the time lost was irretrievable. He tried to inject cool confidence into his command ...
- A 1939 Collier's, Volume 104:
Leo was along in years s ballplayers went; he couldn't hit the ide of an elephant with a banjo
A 1936 Blackwood's magazine:
At last Big Jim had refused to provide further ammunition, saying crudely, " Y' couldn't hit a cow's back with a shovel."
There are plenty of other early examples of things people can't hit with a banjo/shovel/spade, quite common are elephants, balloons, barn doors and nails.
Using Google's daterange feature, I did a search for pages dated 2000 to 2003 , and found the earliest verifiable mention of this phrase in a story in The Independent called My Side By David Beckham with Tom Watt dated 3 October 2003:
in a league where half the native players, to quote Dave Bassett, couldn't hit a cow's arse with a banjo
Google finds no mention of this phrase from 1970 to 2000 .
With more time and more refined searches you may be able to find earlier mentions of this phrase.
Technical note: I used http://www.onlineconversion.com/julian_date.htm to convert Georgian to Julian dates: