Did someone tell you to 'take the bull by the horns,' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.
When someone 'takes the bull by the horns,' it means that they are dealing with something in a direct manner. In particular, it refers to confronting a difficult situation as opposed to avoiding it.
You'll also sometimes hear the phrase 'grab the bull by the horns,' which has the same meaning.
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the phrase 'take the bull by the horns' was first recorded in 1711 with the meaning of "boldly face or grapple with some danger or difficulty."
Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that 'take the bull by the horns' has been in use since before the 1800s.
One example appears in The Magazine of Natural History and Journal of Zoology from 1834:
"Of a bold adventurer we say, that he has taken the bull by the horns; and of a petulant woman, that the curst cow has short horns."
Another example appears in the Appendix to The Black Book from 1835:
"The British constitution is in a dilemma, and in the chapter on the 'Catastrophe of the House of Lords,' we have taken the bull by the horns,' by shewing where the chief difficulty lies and the mode of extrication. Changes of ministers are only convulsive efforts to avoid an inevitable conclusion."
Though the phrase is attested to the 18th century according to the OED, others state that the idiom probably originated in the American West. When the West was still a frontier, it was common for cowboys to have to wrestle with steers as a part of their everyday working life as cowhands and ranchers. Furthermore, this was something that is still done at rodeos for entertainment.
When trying to control a steer or a bull, a cowhand would have to catch it first. One of the most dangerous things you could do was try to grab the creature by the legs or the neck. Though it sounds counterintuitive, the only way to really catch a bull was to face the problem head-on (literally) and grab it by the horns. They could then pull it to the ground.
How would 'take the bull by the horns' be used in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:
What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'take the bull by the horns'?
Here are some options:
If you 'take the bull by the horns,' it means that you confronted a difficult situation head-on rather than avoiding it.
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