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Sacred cow

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A sacred cow is an idea, object, or other thing considered so sacred or valuable to a person or group that it is considered immune from criticism, or (more commonly) criticism is considered morally reprehensible in and of itself.

Sacred cows can be identified by the disproportionate personal attacks and/or censorship elicited by criticism.

Examples of contemporary sacred cows include:


The term comes from belief in Hindu (and other ancient religions) that cows are holy, and must therefore not be eaten or otherwise harmed. In Hinduism, cows are believed to be reincarnated humans; therefore, Hindus do not eat beef or kill cows and they are left to wander aimlessly through city streets and across busy roads. Similarly, many other ancient religions (such as Zoroastrianism) woshipped cows, and the Israelites created a Golden calf to worship in the wilderness.

The use of the term as a simile and metaphor originated in the United States in the late 19th century. For example:

  • The New York Herald, March 1890: "While the great ditch may be regarded as one of the commercial diversities of the commonwealth, to worship it as a sort of sacred cow is not necessarily a work of true statesmanship."
  • The Galveston Daily News, September 1909: "They understand Mr. Bryan's position to be one of antagonism to the contention that raw material is a 'sacred cow,' immune from tariff reform, ever to be upon the dutiable list and in consequence enjoying the blessings of incidental protection."

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