"Count the egg-sucking cows"

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Alexander Bolton, "West Virginia governor urges Congress to 'go big' on COVID-19 relief", The Hill 2/1/2021:

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, on Monday argued that fiscal concerns should be set aside as the nation struggles to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, putting pressure on centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to support a large COVID-19 relief bill.

“We need to understand that trying to be, per se, fiscally responsible at this point in time, with what we’ve got going on in this country — if we actually throw away some money right now, so what?” Justice told CNN in an interview. […]

Justice doubled down on his statement in a follow-up interview with MSNBC in which he urged Congress to “go big.” […]

“At this point in time in this nation, we need to go big. We need to quit counting the egg-sucking legs on the cows and count the cows and just move. And move forward and move right now,” he added.

The Hill quotes the governor's words in the MSNBC interview accurately. Here's the audio for the relevant passage, which starts at 6:53 into the clip:

and at this point in time in this nation
we need to go big
we need to quit counting the egg-sucking legs on the cows and count the cows
and just move
and move forward and move right now

Most readers will understand that egg-sucking in this context is a euphemistic intensifier, which echoes the old saying about "teaching grandmother to suck eggs" while simultaneously standing in for a taboo intensifier like cock-sucking.

But this leaves the question of why counting cow legs is relevant here.

In another interview, on CNBC, the governor uses the same metaphor in a way that makes its point somewhat more clearly:

it's as- as- as simple as just this
if I would say how many cows are out there in that field
count the egg-sucking cows don't count the legs and divide by four
just count the cows

In other words, don't make things more complicated than they need to be. Many of us will have heard versions of the "count the legs and divide by four" joke in different versions over the years.

And in that interpretation, the "egg-sucking is easy" idea resonates, though not so much on the leg-counting side.


  1. Flex said,

    February 2, 2021 @ 9:29 am

    Funny, I read that intensifier as a euphemism for "fucking" not "cock-sucking".

    I suppose it could go either way, but in my neck of the woods the common intensifier is "fucking" or "fuck'n" and while I've never heard "egg-sucking" as a euphemism for it, that would be my natural reading of it.

  2. Gregory Kusnick said,

    February 2, 2021 @ 10:30 am

    Like Flex, I read it as fucking or perhaps motherfucking.

  3. Laura Morland said,

    February 2, 2021 @ 10:52 am

    As on many other such occasions, the Urban Dictionary is illuminative:

    "A scoundrel or nefarious person can also be called an egg-sucking dog. Reference Johny Cash's song "Dirty Old Egg Sucking Dog"."


    P.S. Thanks for this post. I'd fallen asleep last night wondering what "egg-sucking legs" on cows could possibly mean.

  4. Daniel Barkalow said,

    February 2, 2021 @ 11:42 am

    I think the prosody is important; he says "egg-sucking" as a unit with no new information inside it preceding a stressed syllable, which is a hint that it's an expletive rather than meaning anything in particular.

  5. DCBob said,

    February 2, 2021 @ 12:26 pm

    Another great West Virginian turn of phrase, when asked for judgment about a subject in which one has little expertise: "Hard tellin', not knowin' …."

  6. Michael said,

    February 2, 2021 @ 4:48 pm

    Aleister Crowley coined the phrase (later used in the title of a song by the band Ministry): "The way to succeed and the way to suck eggs." Robert Anton Wilson later explained this as a pun on oral sex ("the way to suck-seed") with "suck eggs" clearly referring to cunnilingus, not fellatio.

  7. Kaleberg said,

    February 2, 2021 @ 11:07 pm

    I've run into the phrase "egg sucking dog", a reference to the kind of dog you wouldn't want on your farm. I'm guessing egg sucking is a general purpose negative adjective for all sorts of targets nowadays.

  8. maidhc said,

    February 3, 2021 @ 2:46 am

    "Teaching your grandmother to suck eggs" is an expression of long standing. However "egg sucking dog" seems to be associated mainly with the US South. Didn't Mark Twain use it somewhere? The idea is that once a dog gets a taste for eggs, it's useless, because you can't break the habit, and you'll never get any eggs from your hens as long as you have that dog.

    In this case though, it seems more like other mild Southern expletives like "cotton-pickin'" or "pea-pickin'".

    [(myl) There are other intensifiers of the form NOUN-VERBing. I've always assumed, without thinking about it much, that the non-taboo versions are euphemisms for one of the taboo versions.]

  9. C. Rice said,

    February 4, 2021 @ 12:48 pm

    Beyond egg sucking, the interesting thing from the first clip is the way the governor emphasizes "moo" in move with both stress and pitch. There is a poetics of telling cow jokes underlying his performance here.

  10. wvCultured said,

    February 8, 2021 @ 1:07 pm

    'Egg sucking dog' was used in Ol' Yeller also. We often have no idea what our Governor is saying, but he is kicking butt and taking names regarding the initiative to which this euphemism was spoken – Covid vaccine rollout. West Virginia leads the nation. Maybe politicians in Washington should "just count the egg-suckin' cows. Don't count the legs and divide by four, just count the cows."

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