According to http://www.theanswerbank.co.uk/Phrases-and-Sayings/Question284368.html this is the origin of the phrase "wouldn't say boo to a goose":

Because of the supposed stupidity of the bird of that name, the word 'goose' has meant a simpleton since the 1500s. The word 'boo' in this context is the sudden, loud version of it...the one adults sometimes use to surprise or 'frighten' children...rather than the disapproving anti-cheering version. So, 'saying boo to a goose' - whether human or avian - is about the least brave thing one could imagine doing and, as a result, very shy people are accused of being unable to do even that.
quizmonster

This seems strange because I have always thought of geese as aggressive animals that you wouldn't want to startle.

Is there any evidence that this is the correct origin?

  • Geese around their eggs are particularly aggressive, as are ones that are used to being fed by humans – Zach Saucier Jun 7 '16 at 15:48
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The Phrase Finder confirms the origin, but Etymonline probably explains the rationale behind the saying in a clearer way:

Say boo to a goose:

  • It's just a country proverb, perfectly clear to anyone who is familiar with geese, as in earlier centuries virtually all rural European people would have been. Anybody who shouts loudly and firmly at geese can intimidate them; indeed minding geese was traditionally a job for small girls. Anybody who doesn't dare say "Boo!" to a goose really is a wimp. (VSD)

boo to a goose:

  • To be able to say Bo! to a goose is to be not quite destitute of courage, to have an inkling of spirit, and was probably in the first instance used of children. A little boy who comes across some geese suddenly will find himself hissed at immediately, and a great demonstration of defiance made by them, but if he can pluck up heart to cry 'bo!' loudly and advance upon them, they will retire defeated. The word 'bo' is clearly selected for the sake of the explosiveness of its first letter and the openness and loudness of its vowel. [Walter W. Skeat, "Cry Bo to a Goose, "Notes and Queries," 4th series vi Sept. 10, 1870]

(Etymonline)

  • 3
    That didn't work for me. I got nipped hard. – Val Jun 7 '16 at 13:41

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