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<span style='color:blue;'>Cock and Bull </span>
2003.06.29
Where does the phrase "cock-and-bull" as a reference to lies and excuses come from? -- Aaron Edwards, via the internet.

Strictly speaking, a "cock and bull story" is, as you note, a lie or an excuse, an untruth, a falsehood, a fabrication, a prevarication, a falsification, an invention or a fib. But a "cock and bull story" is more than simply a "lie" or, as the politicians prefer, "a misstatement." A "cock and bull story" is a long and usually convoluted tale so chock full of improbable details and unnecessary embellishments that in its bloated flamboyance it almost begs to be disbelieved. A "cock and bull story" is a real whopper. "I had a flat tire" is an excuse. "Bill Gates had a flat tire, so I drove him to the airport and then he flew me to Area 51, where we had lunch with Zontar, Overlord of the Galaxy" is a cock and bull story.

Unfortunately, the origins of "cock and bull story," which first appeared in English around 1620, are a bit fuzzy. Perhaps the most frequently-heard explanation ties the phrase to an old English roadside inn of the period supposedly called The Cock and Bull. Weary travelers, it is said, would often pass the evenings regaling each other with fantastic tales of their exploits and adventures, and so such stories became known as "Cock and Bull tales." Predictably, however, no such inn can be proven ever to have existed, making this theory, if not a "cock and bull story" itself, at least highly suspect.

A more likely explanation is that "cock and bull story" originally referred to the sort of folk tale or fable, popular at the time, populated by talking animals. A parallel of "cock and bull" can be found in French, where the same sort of whopper is known as a "coq-a-l'ane," or "cock to donkey" story. (The French "coq-a-l'ane," incidentally, was imported into Scots, the language of Scotland, as "cockalayne," meaning a fantastic or satirical story.)

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