Charging Bull in brand-new York City. Photograph by Sam valadi via Flickr. Some legal rights reserved.

You are watching: Mess with the bull, you get the horns meaning

I choose this idiom since it’s May and also I have a little bit of an attention in astrology. (Although i heard we can be off with our calendar. There may be even an ext constellations we chose not to include in our twelve-month calendar.)

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

Now, this to be a rather difficult idiom to research. There is not a lot of to suggest where or as soon as this saying developed, although I have actually a typical idea.

First, stop look at the meaning.

What does ‘When friend Mess with the Bull, You’ll acquire the Horns’ Mean?

Yeah, among my very first stops was Wikiquote due to the fact that it does have some an excellent referencing for complete entries. Alas, i was only able to discover this definition:



when you mess with the bullyou get the horns


I agree with this. It encounters interpersonal relationships, yet it might be used to teams of human being who provoke one human being or another group.

Now, here’s one more take:

I also came across a 2003 post by man Warner entitled, “Mess v the Bull, You’ll gain the Horns.” In it, he talked about a hazing incident including students indigenous Glenbrook phibìc High school in Glenbrook, Illinois. I will not describe the incident, but it the institution administrators, upon punishing the seniors involved, were met v a sue from at least one that those girls.

The whole suggest of Warner’s article was the require for civilization to learn around consequence. He was a professor and he sometimes encountered students who necessary to discover that lesson.

But i guess his lesson comes to the definition I post above, due to the fact that a repercussion of provoking someone might be your ire (or vengeance).

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

I understand I’m not alone in reasoning this speak may have actually originated from bullfighting. The is such a dangerous and brutal sport. (You deserve to tell by several of the photos you’ll find in a search. Ouch.)

However, i was can not to find a link in between this idiom and the background of bullfighting.

What Did i Find?

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


On Shmoop, I found an entry that explains the step from “The Breakfast Club” wherein the five teenagers in detention to be being dressed under in their high college library through Assistant principal Richard Vernon (played by the so late Paul Gleason). Prior to he left, Vernon was insulted by poor boy man Bender (played through Judd Nelson), that asked the education if he obtained his wardrobe indigenous Barry Manilow. In response, Vernon says, “Don’t mess with the bull, young man. You’ll get the horns.”

In this 6-second clip from “The Breakfast Club,” “Richard ‘Dick’ Vernon” is seen talking to “John Bender.”


At Quora, someone submitted the concern “Where walk the phrase, ‘If friend mess with the bull you acquire the horns’ originate?” There to be four full answers together of September 5, 2016, and the finest one was presented by Jon Pennington.

In his answer, Pennington cited 5 sources to be a variation of the phrase was used.

In 2010, over there was an e-mail chain from members of the American language Society. The chain could be found on Listserv. In ~ the peak of the page, one member stated he heard a crude version of the expression while he was serving in the military in 1961.There is one more version of the phrase, “Play with the bull and also you will obtain the horns” in a 1965 problem of the Tennessee Folklore culture Bulletin. The phrase deserve to be uncovered in a list entitled “Folk Wisdom in Northeaster Kentucky.”In an excellent Britain, the expression “to acquire the horns,” which supposed that a guy was gift cuckolded, was coming to be popular approximately the turn of the 20thIn the 1985 movie “The Breakfast Club,” the expression was part of one of Paul Gleason’s lines. His character, assistant major “Richard ‘Dick’ Vernon,” claimed this to “John Bender” (played by Judd Nelson): “Don’t mess through the bull, young man. You’ll gain the horns.”More recently, the phrase was used by Sheldon Cooper on The large Bang Theory in the illustration “The Troll Manifestation.”

Pennington recognizes the a number of his other Quora users thought that the phrase somehow source from bullfighting, which is a Spanish tradition. However, the believes it could have originated from livestock ranching in the unified States.

In June 24, 2016. Andy Kerr claimed he believed the phrase has actually a literal meaning origin. He then proceeded to display some disturbing pictures of men being gored through bulls.

The American language Society

This email chain includes messages from 3 people: Victor Steinbok, Charles Doyle, and also Wilson Gray. The two are talking about the origin of the phrase but no one deserve to seem come pinpoint the origin.

I accessed this chain via Gray’s message. The page had the 2 previous emails top top the same page.

Gray’s Message

Gray’s message is especially crude (due to the usage of the F-word). The heard the one version of the speak as once he to be enlisted in the Army around 1961. The phrase was provided as a recommendation to punishment because that failing to follow traditional operating procedure (S.O.P.).

Gray also said the idiom made the think that bullfighting.

Doyle’s Message

Doyle had a very short message:

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

Not the origin, of course . . . .

Steinbok’s Message

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

Volume 3 of The English language Dictionary (Edited through Joseph Wright and published in 1902) has actually a an interpretation for “to gain the horn” as definition “to it is in lustful.” The term “to obtain the horns” supposed “to be made a cuckold.”

The term “to acquire the horns” was supposedly taken indigenous Lauderdale’s Poems (1796). Here is what i was able to find on page 96-97 under the title “On Women’s Wit”:

That women’s wife, man needna’ dout,Or seek the least affertion;For never ever yet in a dispute,In earnest or diversion,I ever before kent castle beaten out,Which lang ns ha’e remarkit,An’ him 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 come cry them,Because to find out the method he took,There’s mony a ane wad to buy them.

Steinbok likewise mentioned photos of Travel. I was may be to discover this passage:

On this account the bathing places of the 2 sexes are much apart, and also yet not altogether too far, and also he who carries a great spy-glass, can almost everywhere in this human being see many marvels. There is a legend that the island the a modern-day Actæon in this manner as soon as beheld a shower Diana, and also wonderful come relate, the was no he, however the husband the the beauty beauty who got the horns!

About Actæon

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

Now, there space two versions of this story:

In one version, Actæon incurred the wrath that Artemis, who turned him right into a deer (with horns). He to be then hunted by his dogs.In one more version, Artemis caught Actæon but told him not to phone call anyone what he saw. Actæon turn himself into a deer and he was hunted by his dogs.

He basically “got the horns” and also faced the results of the town hall a goddess in the nude.

What execute You Think?

It seems like the speak did happen from miscellaneous sources and the modern saying was later attached come a bull. It’s just natural. Carry out you agree?

Works Cited

Heine, Heinrich. Pictures of Travel. Schaefer & Koradi; 1871. Interpreted from the original German through Charles Godfrey Leland; 1873. Print. Web 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 friend mess v the bull, you obtain 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>.

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