The Phrase “Eat Crow”

Eating crow is a colloquial idiom, used in some English-speaking countries, that means humiliation by admitting having been proven wrong after taking a strong position. The crow is a carrion-eater that is presumably repulsive to eat in the same way that being proven wrong might be emotionally hard to swallow. An example from the mystery writer “Ellery Queen” in 1930: “I should merely be making an ass of myself if I accused someone and then had to eat crow.”

Crows are notoriously disagreeable birds, in every respect. Scavengers, they are not suitable for eating. An old joke among outdoorsmen holds that if you get lost in the woods without any food and manage to catch a crow, you should put it in a pot with one of your boots, boil it for a week, and then eat the boot. Eating crow, therefore, is an especially unpleasant and humiliating thing to have to do.

The expression to eat crow is surprisingly recent. It is originally and still chiefly an Americanism, first found in the mid-nineteenth century. The original form was to eat boiled crow.

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