Posted by: Jack Henry | January 4, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Eating Crow

Happy new year, all y’all!

I was enjoying a walk and talking to my brother during the holiday, and he said after a misunderstanding with a client, he might have to “eat crow.” The next thing he said was, “Ew. I wonder where that phrase came from?” Then seconds later, he switched the topic to one-legged stools that forced workers to “nap jerk” themselves awake so they wouldn’t fall into fires or under horses or into other dangerous circumstances. I laughed about that, refused to buy one, and promised to look into “eating crow.” (And in case you’re interested in stools with one, two, three, or four legs, here’s this.)

As far as figuratively eating crow, I have this from The Grammarist:

To eat crow means to admit a humiliating error one has made, to concede a humiliating defeat. Crow is an unappetizing food, even listed in the book of Leviticus in the Bible as an animal that is not to be eaten.

The phrase appears around 1850 in the United States, and is presumed to have been derived from a story that appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1850, about a farmer who is challenged by his boarders to eat a crow. The original phrase was to eat boiled crow. Today the term has been streamlined to eat crow.

And with information about why literal crow-eating is so disgusting, here’s a scrumptious explanation from Wikipedia:

Literally eating a crow is traditionally seen as being distasteful…. Scavenging carrion eaters have a long association with the battlefield, "They left the corpses behind for the raven, never was there greater slaughter in this island," says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Along with buzzards, rats, and other carrion-eating scavenging animals, there is a tradition in Western culture going back to at least the Middle Ages of seeing them as distasteful (even illegal at times) to eat, and thus naturally humiliating if forced to consume against one’s will.

On that note, I wouldn’t want anyone to feel so humiliated that they would eat crow; notice neither resource said anything about tasting like chicken!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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