Charging Bull in new York City. Photograph by Sam valadi via Flickr. Some civil liberties reserved.

You are watching: You mess with the bull you get the horns

I picked this idiom since it’s May and I have a little bit of an interest in astrology. (Although ns heard we can be off v our calendar. There might be even much more constellations we made decision not to incorporate in our twelve-month calendar.)

Anyway, if you were born in between April 20 and also May 20, you are a Taurus, i beg your pardon is the bull.

Now, this to be a rather tough idiom come research. There is not a many to indicate where or when this speak developed, although I have actually a common idea.

First, stop look in ~ the meaning.

What go ‘When friend Mess with the Bull, You’ll obtain the Horns’ Mean?

Yeah, among my first stops to be Wikiquote because it does have some great referencing for finish entries. Alas, ns was only able to find this definition:



when you mess with the bullyou get the horns


I agree v this. It faces interpersonal relationships, yet it could be used to teams of people who provoke one person or an additional group.

Now, here’s another take:

I also came throughout a 2003 article by man Warner entitled, “Mess with the Bull, You’ll gain the Horns.” In it, the talked about a hazing incident entailing students indigenous Glenbrook phibìc High college in Glenbrook, Illinois. I will certainly not explain the incident, yet it the school administrators, upon punishing the seniors involved, to be met with a sue from at the very least one of those girls.

The whole point of Warner’s post was the need for people to learn around consequence. He to be a professor and also he sometimes dealt with students who necessary to find out that lesson.

But ns guess his lesson involves the an interpretation I post above, because a an effect of provoking someone can be your ire (or vengeance).

What execute I Think around the Proverb’s original Origin?

I understand I’m no alone in reasoning this saying may have originated indigenous bullfighting. It is together a dangerous and brutal sport. (You can tell by some of the pictures you’ll discover in a search. Ouch.)

However, ns was unable to find a link between this idiom and the history of bullfighting.

What Did ns Find?

There were 3 somewhat beneficial sources ns consulted because that this.


On Shmoop, I discovered an entrance that defines the step from “The Breakfast Club” wherein the five teens in detention were being dressed under in your high institution library by Assistant principal Richard Vernon (played through the late Paul Gleason). Prior to he left, Vernon was insulted by bad boy man Bender (played through Judd Nelson), that asked the education if he borrowed his wardrobe native Barry Manilow. In response, Vernon says, “Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll gain the horns.”

In this 6-second clip native “The Breakfast Club,” “Richard ‘Dick’ Vernon” is checked out talking come “John Bender.”


At Quora, who submitted the inquiry “Where walk the phrase, ‘If friend mess with the bull you obtain the horns’ originate?” There to be four complete answers as of September 5, 2016, and the finest one was presented through Jon Pennington.

In his answer, Pennington cited five sources were a version of the expression was used.

In 2010, over there was an e-mail chain from members that the American language Society. The chain can be discovered on Listserv. At the peak of the page, one member stated he heard a crude variation of the phrase while he to be serving in the military in 1961.There is an additional version that the phrase, “Play with the bull and also you will gain the horns” in a 1965 problem of the Tennessee Folklore culture Bulletin. The phrase have the right to be found in a list entitled “Folk Wisdom in Northeaster Kentucky.”In an excellent Britain, the expression “to get the horns,” which meant that a guy was gift cuckolded, was ending up being popular around the turn of the 20thIn the 1985 movie “The Breakfast Club,” the expression was component of one of Paul Gleason’s lines. His character, assistant principal “Richard ‘Dick’ Vernon,” claimed this come “John Bender” (played by Judd Nelson): “Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll acquire the horns.”More recently, the phrase was offered by Sheldon Cooper ~ above The large Bang Theory in the episode “The Troll Manifestation.”

Pennington recognizes the a variety of his other Quora users believed that the expression somehow originated from bullfighting, which is a Spanish tradition. However, that believes it might have source from cattle ranching in the joined States.

In June 24, 2016. Andy Kerr stated he thought the phrase has actually a literal meaning origin. He then proceeded to show some disturbing images of guys being gored by bulls.

The American language Society

This email chain contains messages from 3 people: Victor Steinbok, Charles Doyle, and Wilson Gray. The two room talking about the beginning of the phrase however no one deserve to seem to pinpoint the origin.

I accessed this chain via Gray’s message. The page had the two previous emails ~ above the exact same page.

Gray’s Message

Gray’s article is especially crude (due come the usage of the F-word). That heard the one variation of the speak as when he was enlisted in the Army around 1961. The expression was supplied as a reference to punishment because that failing to follow conventional operating procedure (S.O.P.).

Gray likewise said the idiom made him think that bullfighting.

Doyle’s Message

Doyle had actually a really short message:

1967 George W. Boswell, “Folk Wisdom in Northeastern Kentucky,” _Tennessee Folklore culture Bulletin_ 33: 14. “Play v the bull and also you will gain the horns.”

Not the origin, of food . . . .

Steinbok’s Message

It looks like Steinbok’s was the initial message and it had actually quite a little of references. Here are the pertinent ones:

Volume 3 that The English language Dictionary (Edited by Joseph Wright and also published in 1902) has actually a definition for “to gain the horn” as definition “to be lustful.” The hatchet “to get the horns” meant “to be made a cuckold.”

The hatchet “to acquire the horns” was apparently taken from Lauderdale’s Poems (1796). Right here is what ns was able to discover on page 96-97 under the title “On Women’s Wit”:

That women’s wife, male needna’ dout,Or look for the the very least affertion;For never yet in a dispute,In earnest or diversion,I ever kent castle beaten out,Which lang i ha’e remarkit,An’ that the victor’s horn deserve to toot,I wish the he wad clark it.An’ if he publish it in a book,He needna fash to cry them,Because to discover the means he took,There’s mony a ane wad buy them.

Steinbok likewise mentioned photos of Travel. Ns was maybe to find this passage:

On this account the bathing locations of the 2 sexes are far apart, and yet no altogether also far, and also he who carries a great spy-glass, can almost everywhere in this world see numerous marvels. There is a legend the the island that a modern Actæon in this manner as soon as beheld a bathing Diana, and also wonderful come relate, that was no he, but the husband the the beauty, beauty who gained the horns!

About Actæon

According come Greek Mythology, Actæon regarded Artemis (known together Diana in roman mythology, the goddess of the moon) naked as soon as she was bathing.

Now, there are two versions of this story:

In one version, Actæon occurs the wrath that Artemis, that turned him into a deer (with horns). He was then hunted by his dogs.In one more version, Artemis recorded Actæon yet told him no to call anyone what he saw. Actæon turned himself right into a deer and also he was pursued by his dogs.

He usually “got the horns” and faced the after-effects of viewing a goddess in the nude.

What execute You Think?

It seems choose the speak did to happen from various sources and also the modern saying was later on attached to a bull. It’s just natural. Carry out you agree?

Works Cited

Heine, Heinrich. Pictures the Travel. Schaefer & Koradi; 1871. Interpreted from the original German through Charles Godfrey Leland; 1873. Print. Page 153.

Lauderdale, John. A collection of Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect. Printed by J. Robertson; 1796. Print. Pages 97-98.

Noddy Osborne. “Don’t mess v the bull.” YouTube. 25 Nov 2013. Video. Https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDzWyhXonMU>.

Various. “when girlfriend mess through the bull, you acquire the horns.” Wikitionary. Critical Updated 2 Aug 2016. Web. Retrieved 28 Apr 2017. Https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/when_you_mess_with_the_bull,_you_get_the_horns#English>.

See more: Which Base Is Found In Rna But Not In Dna, Attention Required!

Various. “Where did the phrase, “If you mess with the bull you get the horns” originate?.” Quora. Web. Retrieved 28 Apr 2017. Https://www.quora.com/Where-did-the-phrase-If-you-mess-with-the-bull-you-get-the-horns-originate>.